Paul’s Relationship to the Divine Mystery

Here we have Paul’s third and final reminder to the Ephesians (the others being Eph 2:1-10 and Eph 2:11-22).  It is clear from 3:1 that Paul was about to offer a prayer for his readers, but mention of his being imprisoned ‘for the sake of you Gentiles’ prompts him to clarify his role and ministry.  In the first ‘reminder’, Paul dwelt on their transformation from death to life.  In the second, his focus is the transformation from alienation to reconciliation.  Now, he turns his attention to his stewardship of the gospel.

Here is Hodge’s outline of vv1-13:- ‘The office which Paul had received was that of an apostle to the Gentiles, Eph 3:1–2. For this office he was qualified by direct revelation from Jesus Christ, concerning the purpose of redemption, of his knowledge of which the preceding portions of his epistle, were sufficient evidence, verses 3, 4. The special truth, now more plainly revealed than ever before, was the union of the Gentiles with the Jews as joint partakers of the promise of redemption, by means of the gospel, verses 5, 6. As the gospel is the means of bringing the Gentiles to this fellowship with the saints, Paul was, by the special grace and almighty power of God, converted and made a minister of the gospel, verses 7, 8. The object of his ministry was to make known the unsearchable riches of Christ, and enlighten men as to the purpose of redemption which had from eternity been hid in the divine mind, verse 9. And the object or design of redemption itself is the manifestation of the wisdom of God to principalities and powers in heaven, verse 10. This glorious purpose has been executed in Christ, in whom we as redeemed have free access to God. Afflictions endured in such a cause were no ground of depression, but rather of glory, verses 11–13.’

In Eph 3:1-13, notice

  1. The mystery that has been revealed, Eph 3:3-5
  2. The society that has been created, Eph 3:6-8
  3. The drama that is being played out, Eph 3:10
  4. The purpose that has been fulfilled, Eph 3:11
  5. The privilege that is offered, Eph 3:12
3:1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—3:2 if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3:3 that by revelation the divine secret was made known to me, as I wrote before briefly.

Paul’s prayer had extended from Eph 1:15-2:10, with a digression from Eph 2:11-22. Paul now returns to his prayer, but only momentarily, for he allows himself a second digression (Eph 3:2-13) before he even reaches the main verb. This unevenness of style goes some way towards defending Ephesians as a genuinely Pauline letter, rather than a later treatise in the manner of Paul.

Paul has been contemplating the lofty grandeur of God’s work of salvation.  ‘It is only as he reaches a resting-place in his thought, that he hears as it were the clink of his chain, and remembers where he is and why he is there.’ (J. Armitage Robinson)

For this reason – ‘Because blessings so great have been bestowed upon both Gentile and Jew — reconciliation with God and with one another, and the erection of one sanctuary consisting of Jew and Gentile — therefore, etc.’ (Hendriksen)

‘Chapter 2 has shown what God has done. Chapter 3, therefore, is going to indicate what the church, mentioned distinctly in verse Eph 3:10, now must do.’ (Hendriksen)

I, Paul – Paul speaks personally for the first time in this letter.  Those who think that Paul did not write this letter have a lot of explaining to do.

The prisoner of Christ Jesus – Yes, he considers himself to be a prisoner of Christ Jesus rather than of Caesar, ‘1.  Because he knows that he is not detained as Caesar’s pleasure, 2. Because he belongs to Christ no less in captivity than when he is at liberty (Rom 8:35f).’ (Wilson)

In mentioning his imprisonment at this point, Paul is making it clear that he does not have a merely theoretical interest in the inclusion of the Gentiles in God’s grace, but has been willing to go to extraordinary lengths in order to bring that message to them.

‘When Paul wrote this letter he was in prison in Rome awaiting trial before Nero, waiting for the Jewish prosecutors to come with their bleak faces and their envenomed hatred and their malicious charges. In prison Paul had certain privileges, for he was allowed to stay in a house which he himself had rented and his friends were allowed access to him; but night and day he was still a prisoner chained to the wrist of the Roman soldier who was his guard and whose duty it was to see that Paul would never escape.’ (DSB)

Although Paul was, in fact, the prisoner of Nero, and it was to Nero that he had appealed, Acts 25:11-12, he can never view any circumstance in purely human or earthly terms. He saw the whole of his life, even his imprisonment, as being under the sovereign lordship of Christ. He was similarly content to think of himself as the slave of Christ. (Stott)

‘See what the grace of God can accomplish! Scan not without wonder the bearing of this caged eagle penned within Nero’s prison-bars. Here is a veteran soldier of the cross, seamed with many a battle-scar, shut out from the high places of the field where he had so gallantly trodden down strength, cramped within painfully narrow precincts, his untamed spirit shackled by manacles of inaction and suspense; the churches whose names were graven on his heart left meanwhile untended, and he himself to all seeming laid aside as a “vessel wherein is no pleasure.” Does he faint or repinse? Nay, he glories in tribulations. Nero’s prisoner? Nothing of the sort! He is the prisoner of Jesus Christ and that makes a world of difference; renders him far freer than his jailors in fact.’ (Simpson)

For the sake of you Gentiles will form the theme of this second digression. It was indeed his mission to the Gentiles that had led to fanatical Jewish opposition and to his arrest, imprisonment, and various trials, Acts 21:17-22; 22:21-25. Paul was prepared not only to preach and write about the one new humanity in Christ Jesus: he was at this very moment suffering for it.

‘What had led to his arrest in Jerusalem, his imprisonment there and in Caesarea, his successive trials and his subsequent appeal to Caesar which had brought him to Rome, was fanatical Jewish opposition to his mission to the Gentiles. Luke, his friend, doctor and travelling companion, was with him at the time and faithfully recorded the details in his Acts record. He explains that what prompted the Jews to stir up the crowd against Paul was his reputation for ‘teaching men everywhere against the people and the law and this place’ (viz. the temple). How can he have acquired such a reputation? Doubtless by teaching exactly what he has just taught in Ephesians 2, namely that by abolishing the divisive elements of the law Jesus was creating a new people and building a new temple. So he was arrested. And when the tribune allowed him to make his public defence to the Jewish people, they listened to him quietly until he got to the point in his story where Jesus had said to him: ‘Depart; for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ At this they shouted, ‘Away with such a fellow from the earth!’ (Acts 21:17ff; 22:21ff).’ (Stott)

‘The Ephesians ought to be among the first to acknowledge that Paul is a prisoner for the sake of Gentile freedom, for his arrest in Jerusalem followed the uproar caused by the false charge that he had taken with him into the temple and Ephsian believer names Trophimus’ (Acts 21:29). (Wilson)

‘This demonstrates that he does not merely have a theoretical interest in their participation in God’s grace; he is willing to go to prison to bring that grace to them. But there may be more than that to his unexpected reference to his imprisonment: he may be expressing intensity and even a covert appeal for them to listen carefully to what he intends to pray for them.’ (IVP NT Commentary)

What might we be willing to do, or to give up, for the sake of those whom we would seek to serve?

Paul’s digression is largely taken up with the theme of his apostleship to the Gentiles. (cf. Col 1:23-29) Vv 2-7 focus on the revealed mystery of the unification of all things in Christ. (cf. Eph 1:9-10 2:20) Vv 8-12 concentrate on Paul’s role as apostle to the Gentiles. V13 returns to the theme of Paul’s sufferings on behalf of the Gentiles, which thought prompted the digression in the first place (v1).

Surely you have heard – This implies that at least some of Paul’s readers did not know him personally. This would fit the idea that Ephesians is a circular letter. But some scholars would translate it, ‘since you have heard.’

Hendriksen comments the following translations:- ‘“You have heard — have you not? — of the stewardship of God’s grace” (Bruce’s paraphrase); “If you have heard, as I presume you have” (Grosheide); “… assuming that you have heard” (RSV); “You must have heard” (Phillips); “Surely you have heard” (Moffat; NEB).’

Administration – ‘stewardship’, ‘commission’.  ‘The office of dispensing, as a steward, the grace of God to the Gentiles, was given to Paul. The Greek word for stewardship (oikonomia – household management) continues the images pertaining to God’s house or household in Eph 2:19-22.’ (NCB) On most occasions when Paul uses this word, he does so in close association with the word ‘mystery’.

God’s grace that was given to me – Referring to ‘a certain revelation, as a result of which he had come to know something.’ (Stott). The expression will be repeated in v7, and will there refer to ‘a certain commission, as a result of which he had a responsibility to make something know to others.’ There is a mystery revealed to him, and a ministry entrusted to him.

J.B. Phillips paraphrases thus: ‘For you must have heard how God gave me grace to become your minister.’

‘The administration of God’s grace’ might refer to (a) God’s eternal plan, as in Eph 1:10 (Arnold); (b) Paul’s assignment to preach to the Gentiles (Barth); (c) his privilege of preaching the gospel, cf. Col 1:15 (O’Brien); or (d) his apostleship (Snodgrass).

As Simpson points out, ‘minimizing himself he magnified his office.’

‘Saul the Pharisee was such an extraordinary choice for the apostle to the heathen that nothing could have fitted him for this office but that overwhelming revelation on the Damascus road which secured his unconditional surrender to the divine will, Gal 1:16.’ (Wilson)

The mystery – Not something mysterious, but something previously unknown, but now revealed. See Rom 16:25. The mystery is not that the Gentiles would be blessed (for that had already been revealed through the OT prophets), but rather that they would be ‘heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus’ (v6).

For other references to mystery in the NT, see Mt 13:11; Rom 11:25; 1 Cor 15:51-52; Eph 5:32; 6:19; Col 1:27; 2:2 4:3; 2 Thess 2:7; 1 Tim 3:16; Rev 1:20; 17:5,7.

In Eph 1:9-10, ‘mystery’ refers to God’s purpose to unit all things in heaven and earth in Christ. Here, the reference is to the Gentiles, together with the Jews, being incorporated into the body of Christ and partcipating in all the blessings of salvation.

Made know to me by revelation – ‘Through revelation God conveys to humans that which they could not know otherwise.’ (Liefeld)

‘Paul’s stewardship with respect to the Gentiles had been made known to him by both of these forms of thought-transmission, as is clear directly from such passages as Act 16:9; Act 22:21; Act 26:17-18; and indirectly from Act 9:15; Gal 1:11-17; Gal 2:8.’ (Hendriksen)

As I have already written briefly – This could refer to a previous letter (so Calvin), but is more likely a reference back to Eph 1:9-10.

3:4 When reading this, you will be able to understand my insight into this secret of Christ. 3:5 Now this secret was not disclosed to people in former generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit, 3:6 namely, that through the gospel the Gentiles are fellow heirs, fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus.

The mystery of Christ – This can be taken a number of ways: (a) it is the mystery which belongs to Christ, cf. Eph 3:6; (b) it is the mystery which pertains to Christ; (c) it is the mystery which is Christ himself, cf. Col 1:27. Here, and in Col 4:3, it is perhaps best though of as the specially revealed truth of which Christ is both the source and the substance (Hendriksen).

Note the symmetry: ‘other generations/now’; ‘not made known/revealed’; ‘men/God’s holy apostles and prophets’.

Not made known…as it has now been revealed– The older revelation had been partial and incomplete; the newer is complete and definitive, Col 1:26. See Heb 1:1f. The OT did indeed teach the blessing of the Gentiles, and predicted the sufferings and the glories of Christ. ‘But what neither the Old Testament nor Jesus revealed was the radical nature of God’s plan, which was that the theocracy (the Jewish nation under God’s rule) would be terminated, and replaced by a new international community, the church; that this church would be “the body of Christ,” organically united to him; and that Jews and Gentiles would be incorporated into Christ and his church on equal terms without any distinction. It was this complete union of Jews, Gentiles and Christ which was radically new, and which God revealed to Paul, overcoming his entrenched Jewish prejudice.’ (Stott)

‘Hebrew prophecy had not been silent respecting this divine secret; (cf. Isa 56:5) but it had remained an unwelcome topic to the Jewish mind, absorbed in the contemplation of its own peculiar privileges and construing any ultimate extension f their compass only as foreshadowing accessions of Gentile proselytes to the ranks of the theocracy. To us indeed, as we look back over nineteen centuries of the out-workings of Christianity, God’s wider purposes may sound almost a commonplace. To Paul, however, they stood out in relief above every other phenomenon in the annals of mankind, as the veriest clue of the ages, the disclosure of the divine program touching mankind.’ (Simpson)

Hendriksen concurs:- ‘This does not mean that before Pentecost no one, not even prophets, like Moses, Isaiah, etc., knew anything about the future blessing in which the Gentiles, too, would share. The Old Testament writers, in fact, did know about it and referred to it again and again (Gen 12:3; Gen 22:18; Gen 26:4; Gen 28:14; Ps. 72; 87; Isa 11:10; Isa 49:6; Isa 54:1-3; Isa 60:1-3; Hos 1:10; Amo 9:11 ff.; Mal 1:11, to mention only a few references). But what these prophets did not make clear was that in connection with the coming of the Messiah and the outpouring of the Spirit the old theocracy would be completely abolished and in its place would arise a new organism in which the Gentiles and the Jews would be placed on a footing of perfect equality.’ (Hendriksen)

‘The OT prophets had some knowledge of Gods plan to include the Gentiles as his children, (Isa 56:6,7 49:6) but they did not clearly understand the secret that was now being revealed. (Ac 10:19,20 11:18-21) The OT does not show, for example, that the Gentiles would share equally with the Jews in Gods acceptance, or that tokens such as circumcision could be omitted.’ (NCB)

It has ‘now been revealed’ in the coming of Christ himself. He is simply the subject of the divine disclosure; he is the divine disclosure.

To God’s holy apostles and prophets – Not just to Paul alone. The revealed mystery was now, therefore, the common possession of the whole church.

‘The Acts of the Apostles (Acts 10:9–20; 11:4–12; 15:7–9) records how the Spirit gave the revelation of this truth to Peter, and…Galatians (Gal 1:15–16; 2:1–9) tells the manner of the revelation to Paul.’ (Foulkes)

The mystery, once hidden but now revealed, is that the Gentiles and Jews are fellow heirs (of the same blessing), fellow members (of the same body), and fellow partakers (in the same promise).

The shared privilege is both ‘through the gospel’ (because the gospel proclaims it and makes it available) and ‘in Christ Jesus’ (for it is only as the are in union with him that Jew and Gentile are in union with one another).

Heirs together…members together…sharers together – Cf. Eph 2:12, which the Gentiles are described as having been ‘separate…excluded…foreigners’. The two communities have now been made one in Christ.  The Gentiles are fellow-sharers in the same inheritance, fellow-members of the same body, and fellow-partakers of the same promise.  There is, indeed, one new humanity, Eph 2:15.

Heirs together – ‘Inheritance, especially of the land of Israel, was of great importance and marked the special relationship of the people to their God.’ (Liefeld)

‘They have the same right to the inheritance as the Jews. The inheritance is all the benefits of the covenant of grace; the knowledge of the truth, all church privileges, justification, adoption, and sanctification; the indwelling of the Spirit, and life everlasting; an inheritance so great that simply to comprehend it requires divine assistance, and elevates the soul to the confines of heaven. Hence Paul prays (Ephesians 1:17, 18), that God would give the Ephesians the Spirit of revelation that they might know what is the riches of the glory of the inheritance to which they had been called.’ (Hodge)

‘It is well to pause over a passage like this, and reflect that what seems now to be an axiom of religious thought, the equality of mankind in view of the offer of salvation, was once an immense and long-withheld discovery.’ (Moule)

‘Paul makes it very clear that God’s unveiled secret (“mystery”) has to do not merely with an alliance of Jew and Gentile, or perhaps a friendly agreement to live together in peace, or even an outward combination or partnership, but, on the contrary, with a complete and permanent fusion, a perfect spiritual union of formerly clashing elements into one new organism, even a “new humanity” (Eph 2:15).’

The promise – might well be the promised Holy Spirit.  Or, harking back to Eph 2:12, it could be a reference to the Abrahamic promise.

In Christ Jesus governs all three epithets.  This expression, and its equivalents, have already been used 18 times in the first 2 chapters.

3:7 I became a servant of this gospel according to the gift of God’s grace that was given to me by the exercise of his power. 3:8 To me—less than the least of all the saints—this grace was given, to proclaim to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ 3:9 and to enlighten everyone about God’s secret plan—a secret that has been hidden for ages in God who has created all things.

I became a servant of this gospel – ‘Servant’ (‘minister’ in older translations) implies responsibility and dignity rather than privilege and authority.

What was revealed to Paul he refers to as ‘this mystery’. That same message, now proclaimed by him, he calls ‘this gospel’.

What does it mean to become a servant of the gospel today?

By the gift of God’s grace – Cf. v2.  Paul has a great sense of privilege and responsibility. He could never forget that he had been a persecutor, 1 Tim 1:13-14.

Through the working of his power – Mere human strength would not by sufficient to begin and maintain this ministry: only the power of God can do this.

‘The task to which he was called needed no mere human strength and patience and power of endurance. It needed the power of God and, as in 1:19, Paul shows that that power is given, and not just as an abstract thing, or as a force applied from afar, but as energizing strength (energeia) operative in his life by the Spirit’s indwelling. In Colossians 1:29 he expresses this more fully when he says of his preaching work, ‘I toil, striving with all the energy which he mightily inspires within me’. By the grace of God he was called and received as a servant of the gospel, and by the power of God he did all that was effective in that service.’ (Foulkes)

To transform ‘a Jew into a Christian, a blasphemer into a saint, a Pharisee into an apostle, and a persecutor into a missionary’ could only be wrought by God’s sovereign grace. (Eadie)

‘He was made a minister, he did not make himself such; he took not to himself that honour; and was made such according to the gift of God upon him. God supplied and furnished him for his work; and in the discharge of it suitably assisted and helped him with all needed gifts and graces, both ordinary and extraordinary, and that by the effectual working of his power; in himself more especially; and also in great numbers of those to whom he preached; by which means his labours among them were successful. Observe, what God calls men to, he fits them for; and does it with an almighty power. An effectual working of divine power attends the gifts of divine grace.’ (MHC)

I am less than the least of all God’s people – Lit. ‘leaster’. Some think that there is here a play on words: the Latin name ‘Paulus’, which means ‘little’ or ‘small’. Paul sets himself below not only all other apostles, but below all other believers. In what sense did he so regard himself? Cf. 1 Tim 1:13. Paul may well have had his former life as a persecutor of the church in mind.  Modesty and humility can sometimes be paralysing (“who am I to…?”) But not in Paul’s case. His sense of unworthiness does not inhibit him; it spurs him on.

Cf. 1 Cor 15:9; 1 Tim 1:15.

Although some maintain that this self-description ‘gives scholars who maintain that Paul wrote it great embarrassment’ (Goodspeed) this is, surely, much more likely to have been written by Paul himself than by some later admirer!

‘This is no feigned humility. It is the inevitable attitude of one who was prostrated with wonder at the grace of God in Christ. Here it is not so much that he is consciously comparing himself with others; if he did so he might speak as he does in 2 Corinthians 12:11. Nor is it because he had specially in mind the fact that he had been a persecutor (as in 1 Cor. 15:9; Gal. 1:13–15; 1 Tim. 1:12–14). Rather it is that the more he meditated on the blessings of God in Christ, and the infinite grace of his gifts, the more he realized that in himself there was nothing to make him deserve such mercy. He knew that he had no standing, no personal worthiness, no claim, no natural position or gifts, that he should receive the grace of reconciliation, and become a preacher of it. He was the very least of all. The gospel was everything, the unsearchable riches of Christ.’ (Foulkes)

Preach – ‘euangelizo’ – to announce good tidings.

The unsearchable riches of Christ – ‘The riches which he possesses in himself and which he bestows on those who come to him. What these riches are we may judge from Paul’s exposition in Eph 1 and 2. They are riches freely available because of the cross. They include resurrection from the death of sin, victorious enthronement with Christ in the heavenlies, reconciliation with God, incorporation with Jewish believers in his new society, the end of hostility and the beginning of peace, access to the Father through Christ and by the Spirit, membership of his kingdom and household, being an integral part of his dwelling place among men, and all this only a foretaste of yet more riches to come, namely the riches of the glory of the inheritance which God will give to all his people on the last day.’ (Stott)

‘The unsearchable riches of Christ, are the fulness of the Godhead, the plenitude of all divine glories and perfections which dwell in him; the fullness of grace to pardon, to sanctify and save; everything in short, which renders him the satisfying portion of the soul.’ (Hodge)

In Col 2:2 Paul concern is that his fellow-believers might have ‘the full riches of complete understanding’, reminding us that although Christ’s riches are unfathomable, we are enabled to have a degree of understanding that is sufficient for faith and life (Liefeld).

These riches are ‘unsearchable’ – they are beyond our understanding.  They are a labyrinth that can never be fully traced, an ocean whose depths can never be fully fathomed, a treasure-trove that can never ben exhausted.  The same word is used in Rom 11:33, where God’s paths are said to be ‘beyond tracing out’, or ‘inscrutable’.

‘In the studying of Christ it is as in the planting of a newly discovered country; at first, men sit down by the seaside, upon the skirts and borders of the land, and there they dwell; but by degrees they search farther and farther into the heart of the country. Ah, the best of us are yet but upon the border of this vast continent!’ (Flavel)

“Many of us are like the man out West who had a junk yard. He labored hard and long, buying and selling the old salvage he gathered from the back alleys of the city. But one day he discovered that his junk yard was located on an oil field. He hired a drilling crew, and soon the black gold flowed abundantly from the bosom of the earth. His junk yard was transformed into a veritable mine of wealth which knew no limits.” (As Christians we have the riches of Christ at our disposal. Yet many act as if the riches of Christ were a junk yard to be ignored.) (Billy Graham, The Secret Of Happiness, p. 54.)

One day the department store manager left all the windows open and a great windstorm blew all the price makers around the store causing them to land in total disarray. The next day, the shoppers delighted to see socks for $149.95, suits for $1.19, shoes for 5 cents, and a scarf for $1,299.99! This is how worldly Christians live every day. The put low value on spiritual things and high value on things with none. Stop living your life as though the price tags got mixed up!

‘In Christ there is unsearchable riches, None can understand the fulness that there is in him; none can exhaust it. Millions and hundreds of millions have been saved by the fulness of his merits; and still those merits are as ample as ever. The sun in the heavens has shone for six thousand years, and has shed light and comfort on countless millions; but his beams are not exhausted or diminished in splendour. To-day, while I write-this beautiful, calm, sweet day (June 24, 1840)-his beams are as bright, as rich, as full, as they were when they were shed on Eden. So of the Sun of righteousness. Millions have been enlightened by his beams; but to-day they are as full, and rich, and glorious, as they were when the first ray from that Sun reached the benighted mind of a penitent sinner. And that fulness is not to be exhausted. No matter how many partake of his abundance; no matter how many darkened minds are enlightened; no matter though nation after nation comes and partakes of his fulness, yet there is no approach to exhaustion. The sun in the heavens may waste his fires and burn out, and become a dark orb, diffusing horror over a cold and cheerless world; but not so with the Sun of righteousness. That will shine on in glory for ever and ever; and the last penitent sinner on earth who comes to partake of the riches of the grace of Christ shall find it as full and free as did the first who sought pardon through his blood. Oh, the UNSEARCHABLE RICHES of Christ! Who can understand this? Who can grow weary in its contemplation?’ (Barnes)

‘All spiritual wealth is vested in Jesus Christ. Two golden spheres he fills to overflowing, the sphere of glory and the sphere of grace. As the only-begotten Son, his uncreated beams flooded a past eternity and furnished an adequate object of complacency to the Eternal Father, a perfect reflex of an ineffable effulgence. What plummet can sound the ocean? But the preacher of the gospel is concerned not so much with a fathomless pre-existence as with the Saviour’s riches funded in the covenant of grace. It is Christ manifest in the flesh, tempering his heavenly resplendence with a terrestrial veil, that the apostle is contemplating. Glory holds high festival above, but grace commiserates and stoops below in the guise and trappings of a servant. Jesus espouses utter poverty that we might become unutterably riches. Love is best gauged by sacrifice. Here then is one who for our sakes gave up more than any other being every possessed, nay yielded himself up body and soul to inexpressible pans as our Hostage. Will he grudge us aught that is his?’ (Simpson)

‘In his book The Crisis in the University, Sir Walter Moberly cites the failure of evangelicals to penetrate university campuses with the gospel. To those who claim to follow Christ he says, “If one-tenth of what you believe is true, you ought to be ten times as excited as you are.”‘

To make plain – The verb is ‘photizo‘, to enlighten, cf. Eph 1:18 Acts 26:17-18 2 Cor 4:6. ‘So the thought shifts from the content of the message (good news) to the condition of those to whom it is proclaimed (in the darkness of ignorance)…We ourselves must always remember in our evangelism that “the prince of darkness” holds men and women in darkness, and that only by a divine enlightenment will their eyes be opened to see.’ (Stott)

‘The original light is Christ himself. It is with reference to him that it was said, “The true light, which illumines every man, was coming into the world” (Jn 1:9). Jesus called himself “the light of the world” (Jn 8:12). In a secondary sense, Christ’s followers, too, are “the light of the world” (Mt 5:14). They are light-bearers (Rev 1:20).’ (Hendriksen)

In what ways does the ‘prince of darkness’ blind people to the gospel? In what ways can we play our part in enlightening them?

To everyone – Paul’s  mission was especially to the Gentiles, but also included ‘the children of Israel’, Acts 9:15.  (‘pantas‘ is omitted in a number of manuscripts).

The administration of this mystery – The way this secret has been revealed and carried out.  ‘Paul is thus expressing again the fact that his work is to show and teach the great purpose of God in Christ.’

‘The reason many churches are weak and ineffective is because they do not understand what they have in Christ. And the cause of this is often spiritual leaders who are not good “stewards of the mystery.” Because they do not “right”]ly divide the Word of truth,” (2 Tim 2:15) they confuse their people concerning their spiritual position in Christ, and they rob their people of the spiritual wealth in Christ.’ (Wiersbe)

Cf. Rom 16:25; 1 Cor 2:7; Col 1:26  ‘In all these places the mystery spoken of is God’s purpose of redemption, formed in the counsels of eternity, impenetrably hidden from the view of men until revealed in his own time. It was this plan of redemption thus formed, thus long concealed, but now made known through the Gospel, that Paul was sent to bear as a guiding and saving light to all men.’ (Hodge)

Which for ages was kept hidden in God – See v5n.

God, who created all things – As Creator, God had every right to order and plan things according to his will; to choose when to hide the mystery, and when to reveal it.

3:10 The purpose of this enlightenment is that through the church the multifaceted wisdom of God should now be disclosed to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly realms.

‘In my youth I once had the privilege of singing in a choral group under the direction of the legendary Arturo Toscanini. I was only one in a large group (along with a mighty orchestra), doing a very small part in the concert. Yet my sense of awe and my desire to do that little part well for the maestro continue strong in my memory. The huge audience could not distinguish any individual voice, but together we gave them pleasure and added to the reputation of the great Toscanini.

This section of Ephesians tells us that the church is destined to demonstrate God’s wisdom to a heavenly audience. We may think that our individual voices count for little, but together we display the wisdom of God, the great Conductor of the church.(Liefeld)

What is the church for?  This question is frequently answered in terms of evangelism, mission, humanitarian activity and (of course) worship.  Here in Ephesians, however, Paul teaches that the goal of the church is to display God’s wisdom.’ (Liefeld)

‘What do you think of the church?  Your answer will probably depend on whether you are thinking about the ideal or the reality.  In the ideal, the church is the most marvellous new creation of God.  It is the new community of Jesus, enjoying a multi-racial, multi-national and multi-cultural harmony which is unique in history and in contemporary society.  The church is evern the “new humanity”, the vanguard of a redeemed and renewed human race.  It is a people who spend their earthly lives (as they will also spend eternity) in the loving service of God and of others.  What a noble and beautiful ideal!  In reality, however, the church is us (if you will pardon the bad grammar) – a dishevelled rabble of sinful, fallible, bickering, squabbling, stupid, shallw Christians, who constantly fall short of God’s ideal, and often fial even to approximate to it.’ (Stott Authentic Christianity, 302)

Made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms – We take these cosmic intelligences to be angels. For other references to the super-mundane realm, cf. Eph 1:3,21 2:6; and Eph 6:10-18. Notice that in the last of these passages, the rulers and authorities are referred to as evil. 1 Pet 1:10-12 concurs with this passage in asserting that they are not omniscient. God’s master-plan for the church was not know to them intuitively, but made known through the church itself.

What was hinted at in Eph 2:7 is expanded and clarified in this verse.  God’s saving purposes are to be made known not only to all people, v9, but to the hosts of heaven.

‘It is through the old creation (the universe) that God reveals his glory to humans; it is through the new creation (the church) that he reveals his wisdom to angels. (Stott)

Some scholars (e.g. G.B. Caird and Markus Barth) hold that the ‘rulers and authorities’ are not angels and demons, but the social structures of this world. Moreover, they suggest that the function of the church in relation to these structures is not merely informative, but redemptive: the church’s role is to seek to bring them into conformity with the will and purpose of God. This view is, however, unconvincing in the light of what this verse actually says.

‘God first shows his plan to the various orders of good angels, to which they respond joyfully. (1 Tim 3:16 1 Pet 1:12) he secondly shows his wisdom to the evil angels (residing in heaven in the lower sense, i.e., the air; cf. Eph 2:2 with Eph 6:12), who then understand their hopelessness.’ (1 Cor 15:24 Col 2:15) (NCB)

‘The church is a spectacle to angels as well as men. From her chequered story and long-drawn conflict the celestial hosts learn secrets of the Creator’s wisdom not elsewhere divulged. The strange vicissitudes in her status, the yet stranger throes of tribulation through which she is called to pass, and, strangest sight of all to the heavenly onlookers, the submission of her illustrious Head to the reproaches and agonies of the cross, are fraught with priceless instruction to these sons of the morning, themselves not wholly unscathed by the internecine feud between light and darkness. We are their graduating school.’ (Simpson)

‘One thing is clear. We are parts of a larger whole, designed to read an impressive lesson to the universe, an absorbing object of scrutiny to the observant hosts of light, our present coadjutors and class-mates, our future colleagues and comrades.’ (Simpson)

Stott notes the sequence of the revelation of God’s truth concerning the church: the mystery was revealed to Paul; he was commissioned to preach it to the world; it was made know to the cosmic rulers and authorities as they watched the church develop.

It is generally agreed that this expression refers to angels, but it is less clear whether the reference is to good or to evil angels (or both).  Calvin is one of many who thinks that the former is the case in this particular passage: ‘Paul’s meaning is, The church, composed of both Jews and Gentiles, is a mirror, in which the angels behold the astonishing wisdom of God displayed in a manner unknown to them before. They see a work which is new to them, and the reason whereof was hid in God.’  Ellicot concurs, suggesting that ‘evil angels more naturally recognise the power, good angels the wisdom of God.’  See also Lk 15:10; 1 Cor 11:10; 1 Pet 1:12; Rev 5:11ff.  Liefeld, however, notes the fact that in Eph 6:10-18 these cosmic power and plainly evil, and for this and other reasons considers the same to be true here.

‘What is happening in the church is the first sign that their plan to disrupt the order of God’s beautiful world will be thwarted. This is the context in which our spiritual warfare is played out, Eph 6:10-18′. (Chester)

‘Angels, we know, are messengers of God. They also watch over his people. We know too that they gather in innumerable hosts to sing hymns to God and that they delight in beholding the Father’s face (Matthew 18:10). We know they were present when each new star was freshly minted and the planets were set to gliding in their courses — “the morning stars [the angels] sang together” (Job 38:7). They have seen the greatness and wisdom of creation. They have navigated the immense distances of space. They have watched God’s people from the beginning — Aaron and Moses, the blood-drenched offerings and clouds of smoke in the Tabernacle and the Temple, and on and on. They have seen the advent of Christ — the incarnation, death, and resurrection of their blessed Lord. Yet there still remains much to learn. How will it consummate? they wonder.’ (Kent Hughes)

The manifold wisdom of God – The church is a public demonstration of the resurrection power of God, (Eph 1:19-2:6) the immeasurable grace and kindness of God, (Eph 2:7) but also the ‘manifold wisdom’ of God: the ‘many-splendoured’, the ‘variegated’, the ‘multi-coloured’ wisdom. The word is an unusual adjective, used in the Septuagint to describe Joseph’s coat, Gen 37:3,23,32. His wisdom, although unified, manifests itself in a multitude of ways. See Isa 55:8,9 Heb 1:1. It is wonderfully manifested in the unity and diversity of the Church, God’s new society.

We think of Paul’s exultant outburst in Rom 11:33-36, in which he celebrates God’s inestimable wisdom in including both Jews and Gentiles in his plan of salvation.

Thinking of Paul’s train of thought in Rom 11:11, 31, 33, Hendriksen comments: ‘when in the past certain commentators, in interpreting the expression “iridescent wisdom,” have fixed the attention upon various paradoxes such as the following, that God in Christ produces life by means of death, glory by means of shame (the “shame” of the cross), the blessing by means of the curse, power by means of weakness, etc., they were simply following where Scripture itself had led them.’

‘The knowledge of Christ is profound and large; all other sciences are but shadows; this is a boundless, bottomless ocean; no creature has a line long enough to fathom the depth of it; there is height, length, depth and breadth ascribed to it, Eph 3:18, yea, it passeth knowledge. There is “a manifold wisdom of God in Christ,” Eph 3:10. It is of many sorts and forms, of many folds and plates: it is indeed simple”], pure and unmixed with any thing but itself, yet it is manifold in degrees, kinds and administrations; though something of Christ be unfolded in one age, and something in another, yet eternity itself cannot fully unfold him. I see something, said Luther, which blessed Austin saw not; and those that come after me, will see that which I see not. It is in the studying of Christ, as in the planting of a new discovered country; at first men sit down by the sea-side, upon the skirts and borders of the land; and there they dwell, but by degrees they search farther and farther into the heart of the country. Ah, the best of us are yet but upon the borders of this vast continent!’ (Flavel)

And this is through the church.  ‘Through the church, God displays his wisdom (Lk 15:10 1 Cor 4:9) to the angels, who are mans fellow servants.’ (Rev 19:10) (NCB)

The dignity of the church

‘This gives us our highest conception of the dignity of the church. The works of God manifest his glory by being what they are. It is because the universe is so vast, the heavens so glorious, the earth so beautiful and teeming, that they reveal the boundless affluence of their maker. If then it is through the church God designs speedily to manifest to the highest order of intelligence, his infinite power, grace and wisdom, the church in her consummation must be the most glorious of his works.’ (Hodge)

‘It is in the New Testament ecclesia – chosen by God, redeemed by Christ, and sanctified by the Spirit – that there is at last revealed to the angels’ wondering gaze the consummation of God’s eternal purpose (cf 1 Pet 1:12).’ (Wilson)

Do not despise the church of God

‘Some people construct a Christianity which consists entirely of a personal relationship to Jesus Christ and has virtually nothing to do with the church. Others make a grudging concession to the need for church membership, but add that they have given up the ecclesiastical institution as hopeless. Now it is understandable, even inevitable, that we are critical of many of the church’s inherited structures and traditions. Every church in every place at every time is in need of reform and renewal. But we need to beware lest we despise the church of God, and are blind to his work in history. We may safely say that God has not abandoned his church, however displeased with it he may be. He is still building and refining it. And if God has not abandoned it, how can we?’ (Stott)

3:11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, 3:12 in whom we have boldness and confident access to God because of Christ’s faithfulness.

His eternal purpose – his plan, which was conceived in eternity, was kept hidden in ages past, has been ‘accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord’, and revealed to and proclaimed by Paul.

‘We are back again to this great, central theme of the letter. Behind all the events of this world’s history there is an eternal purpose being worked out. God’s is no ad hoc plan, but one conceived from eternity and eternal in its scope. Christ is the agent of this purpose.’ (Foulkes)

‘The importance of this statement cannot be overstated; it is central to the epistle. The opening blessing (Eph 1:3-14) repeatedly affirms, in various words and syntactical constructions, that God has specific intentions for believers and indeed for the universe…Verses 11-12 of chapter 1 make the remarkable assertion that we have been “predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.” God’s choice was made “before the creation of the world” (Eph 1:4) and is now, in Eph 3:10, seen to be an eternal purpose that gives meaning to the church.’ (Liefeld)

‘Is history just the random succession of events, each effect having its cause and each cause its effect, yet the whole betraying no overal pattern but appearing rather as the meaningless development of the human story?…Christians affirm, in contrast to all other views, that history is “his story,” God’s story. For God is at work, moving from a plan conceived in eternity, through a historical outworking and disclosure, to a climax within history, and then on beyond it to another eternity of the future. The Bible has this linear understanding of time. And it tells us that the centre of Gopd’s eternal-historical plan is Jesus Christ, together with his redeemed and reconciled people.’ (Stott)

The church is central to history. Think of the kind of people that secular history concentrates on: kings, queens, emperors, politicians and generals. The biblical view of history focusses on ‘the saints’. Think of the wars and treaties between nations that secular history concentrates on. The biblical view of history focusses on the war between good and evil, the victory of Christ and the peace that has been wrought by him between God and us. Secular history focusses on the political map of the world. The biblical view concentrates on the multi-national community of the church, which has no territorial boundaries, and on Christ’s empire, on which the sun will never set.

‘Sometimes the history of Christianity can be presented in such a way that it sounds as if the gospel went out to the Gentiles only because the Jews would not receive it. Paul here reminds us that the salvation of the Gentiles is not an afterthought of God; the bringing of all men into his love was part of God’s eternal design.’ (DSB)

‘Paul nowhere develops the full extent of what he means by the purpose or plan of God, but no doubt it covered the whole of God’s dealings with the created order. Paul does, however, develop its redemptive aspect. God works everything according to the counsel of his own will, and his will or purpose is redemptive. Consequently, according to that purpose, he calls, (Rom 8:28) he works everything together for good for those whom he has called, (Rom 8:28) he predestinates those who are in Christ (Eph 1:11; see “In Christ”), he elects (Rom 9:11) and he makes known his manifold wisdom through the church. (Eph 3:11) This purpose of God is inscrutable, for “who has known the mind of the Lord?” (1 Cor 2:16; Rom 11:33-35, quoting Isa 40:13), and, though God’s ways and doings are past finding out and embody an ultimate mystery, one is not left wholly in the dark. The Spirit (see Holy Spirit) has searched out the deep things of God, (1 Cor 2:10-11) just as God has searched out the hearts of all human beings (Rom 8:27) and God has revealed these things to believers by the Spirit. (1 Cor 2:10,12) Christ also knows the mind of God and believers have the mind of Christ. (1 Cor 2:16) So, although the mind, will and purpose of God are eternal, divine mysteries, it was God’s purpose to make this known in all its manifold wisdom, to the extent that it can be known, through the church, which is the body of Christ.’ (Eph 3:11) (DPL)

This is ‘a very comforting passage, which assures believers that God’s ultimate design for the church, namely, that it serve as a school in which the glorious angels may learn more and more about his marvelous wisdom, cannot fail to be realized, resting, as it does, not on the sinking sand of merely human striving but on the impregnable rock of the sovereign and eternal will of the Almighty, a will centered in the Anointed Savior, who is Lord of the entire Church Glorious, yes, our Lord.’ (Hendriksen)

We may approach God – Cf. Eph 2:18; Heb 10:19f. This access to God by all Christian people is known as ‘the priesthood of all believers’. It may be that an approach to God in prayer is especially in mind here, especially as the present digression has interrupted a (scarcely-begun) prayer.

‘The image of “access” (prosago‘ge‘, Eph 2:18; 3:12) to God…fits within…temple imagery, for the term is used in the Greek translation of the OT for approaching God in the sanctuary with sacrifices (e.g., LXX Lev 1:3; 3:3; 4:14), and in Greek literature it is used of the right of an audience with a king. Paul speaks of “bending his knees” as he approaches the divine throne with his petitions (Eph 3:14).’ (DBI)

‘Because of his kindness, love, and mercy coupled with the reconciliation that has taken place by the blood of Jesus Christ, believers can experience a closeness to God. As part of this relationship, God’s people need feel no restraint in approaching God in prayer or worship. They can pray at any time with no fear of being turned away because of ritual impurity or some form of unworthiness. Because of the work of Christ, which constitutes the means of their reconciliation, there are no ritual performances of any kind that are necessary to approach God. Because of what Christ has accomplished, they can approach God with full confidence (πεποιθήσει). This term simply reinforces the idea of freedom of access to the Father with no fear of recrimination or rejection.’ (Arnold)

‘If God be everywhere present, then for a Christian to walk with God is not impossible. God is not only in heaven, but he is in earth too. Isa 66:1:Heaven is his throne, there he sits; the earth is his footstool, there he stands. He is everywhere present, therefore we may come to walk with God. ‘Enoch walked with God.’ Gen 5:22. If God was confined to heaven, a trembling soul might think, How can I converse with God, how can I walk with him who lives in excelsis; above the upper region? but God is not confined to heaven; he is omnipresent; he is above us, yet he is about us, he is near to us. Acts 17:27. Though he be not far from the assembly of the saints, ‘He stands in the congregation of the mighty.’ Ps 82:1. He is present with us, God is in every one of us; so that here on earth we may walk with God. In heaven the saints rest with him, on earth they walk with him. To walk with God is to walk by faith. We are said to draw nigh to God, Heb 10:22, and to see him. Heb 11:27. ‘As seeing him who is invisible:, and to have fellowship with him. 1 Jn 1:3. ‘Our fellowship is with the Father.’ Thus we may take a turn with him every day by faith. It is slighting God not to walk with him. If a king be in presence, it is slighting him to neglect him, and walk with the page. There is no walk in the world so sweet as to walk with God. Ps 89:15. ‘They shall walk in the light of thy countenance.’ Ps 138:5. ‘Yea, they shall sing in the ways of the Lord.’ It is like walking among beds of spices, which send forth a fragrant perfume.’ (Thomas Watson)

‘This is the great question which every sinner needs to have answered—How may I come to God with the assurance of acceptance? The answer given by the apostle and confirmed by the experience of the saints of all ages is, ‘By faith in Jesus Christ.’ It is because men rely on some other means of access, either bringing some worthless bribe in their hands, or trusting to some other mediator, priestly or saintly, that so many fail who seek to enter God’s presence.’ (Hodge)

‘We have this free access to God; we believers; not any particular class, a priesthood among Christians to whom alone access is permitted, but all believers without any priestly intervention, other than that of one great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God.’ (Hodge)

With freedom and confidence – As a child approaches a loving father.  ‘The sense 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 hesitating, and with an assurance that our prayers will be heard.’ (Barnes)

The word for ‘freedom’ means, ‘courage’, ‘boldness’.

‘The word boldness (parrēsia) is basically ‘freedom of speech’. It is often used of boldness before other people, as in 6:20, Acts 4:31 and Philippians 1:20, the absence of fear or shame. It is used of a similar absence of fear or shame in approaching God. Hebrews 4:16 and 10:19 are the clearest examples and explanations of this.’ (Foulkes)

‘We can and should approach [God] without restraint, telling him all our troubles, asking him to help us in all our needs. We know that he will welcome us most heartily. Particularly, we should ask him to enable us so to live that the fruits of his grace may be exhibited in us, and the wisdom of God reflected in us, so that the angels may see us as the mirror of God’s virtues.’ (Hendriksen)

3:13 For this reason I ask you not to lose heart because of what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.

‘Paul was aware of the fact that they were tempted to lose heart because he, the apostle and champion of the Gentiles, was in prison. (See…Eph 6:21–22.) This they must not do, but rather realize that his sufferings were their gain and glory.’ (Foulkes)

Your glory – Elsewhere in Ephesians (Eph 1:6, 12, 14, 17–18; 3:16, 21) the word doxa refers to glory given to God.  Its use here is unique within Ephesians ‘in that it refers not to God, but to Paul’s readers. The doxa Paul mentions here is the eschatological glory believers will experience in the age to come when Christ reigns in full.’ (Lexham)

Prayer for Strengthened Love

3:14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 3:15 from whom every family in heaven and on the earth is named.

His digression finished, Paul takes up the prayer which he set out to offer in v1. In Ch 1, his prayer had been for their divine enlightenment. Here, his wish is for their divine enablement. The first prayer is for their spiritual apprehension, the second for the spiritual appropriation.

14-19 This sublimest of prayers is that they might: (a) be divinely empowered and indwelt; (b) be rooted and established; (c) know Christ’s love in all dimensions; (d) be filled up to the fulness of God.

As John Stott remarks, the content of a Christian’s prayers will reveal his chief anxieties and ambitions. ‘Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire, uttered or unexpressed.’ Do we pray for each other like this? Do we tell each other that we are thus praying? Certainly it is true that this prayer concerns spiritual, not physical or material, welfare.

I kneel – Posture in prayer reflects the attitude of the mind, and is therefore not unimportant. It was usual for Jews to stand for prayer, Mt 6:5 Lk 18:11,13. Kneeling expresses particular solemnity and intensity, 1 Ki 8:54 Lk 22:41 Acts 7:60 9:40 20:36 21:5.

Key Themes in Paul’s Prayer

  1. Prayerfulness, cf. Eph 6:18. Do we pray for each other like this?
  2. Strength, cf. Col 1:11. For what kind of power is the apostle praying?
  3. The heart, cf. Pr 4:23. Is our attention focused on the things of the heart, or on surface things?
  4. Unity, cf. Eph 4:3ff. Do we recognise the corporateness of spiritual life and growth?
  5. Love, cf. Eph 4:15. Is love at the root and foundation of all that we are and do?
  6. Growth, cf. Pr 4:18. Are we constantly longing and striving towards maturity?

The Father – ‘The range of meanings include those of authority and discipline, but also those of compassion, care, protection, and provision.’ (EDBT)

‘All human fatherhood is said to derive from the fatherhood of God, (Eph 3:14-15) which shows that God is not called Father on the basis of a human analogy, as if human fatherhood was the nearest approximation to the relationship between God and humanity. Fatherhood is seen rather to be inherent in the nature of God and in determining all that is highest and holiest in the human relationship of parenthood…We need to inquire what “fatherhood” means when applied to God. As far as believers are concerned it means that God is the source of their spiritual life and pours his love upon them. God is concerned with their welfare (Rom 8:28) and also with their growth in likeness to his holy, loving character.’ (Eph 5:1 Col 1:12 1 Th 2:12 4:7,9) (DPL)

‘God himself is the archetype of parentage, faintly adumbrated by human fatherhood…Doubtless the oecumenical fatherhood of beneficence (Ac 17:28) is uppermost in the writer’s mind; yet the appended clause “in heaven and on earth” warrants a secondary reference to the household of faith, conjointly perhaps with their angelic fellow-tribesmen, as Calvin terms them, who are specifically alluded to in the context. For the time being it is located in two worlds, yet constitutes in the aggregate a blessed entirety.’ (Simpson)

‘This Trinitarian address – to the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit – begins with an ascription to the Father alone, “from whom every fatherly household (patria) in heaven and earth is named” (my translation). The word patria, echoing the name Father (patēr), envisions the entire created order as an extended household polity (cf. Ephesians 2:19; Philippians 3:20). The Father is the Source and Head of every created order, of the heavenly ranks of angels and principalities and powers, and of all earthly institutions, sacred and secular. The cosmos is a divine patriarchy.’ (Stephen Noll)

His whole family – This expression can also mean ‘every family’ (RSV, NEB). The word ‘patria‘ (family) carries the meaning of ‘fatherhood’. God is not only the Father, but is the one from whom all other fatherhood derives its nature and meaning. In view of Paul’s emphasis on the unity of Jewish and Gentile believers (Eph 4:6), it is possible that the meaning here is restricted to the company of the redeemed. If this is so, then heaven and earth refers to the church militant on earth and triumphant in heaven. In any case, the concept of ‘fatherhood’ is not an earthly concept that we project onto God, but a divine concept which is faintly mirrored in every human family. God’s is the archetypal Fatherhood; our is the derivative.

‘Scripture views angels and men, the saints militant and those with God, as ONE holy family joined under the one Father in Christ, the Mediator between heaven and earth. (Eph 1:10 Php 2:10) Hence, angels are our “brethren,” (Rev 19:10) and “sons of God” by creation, as we by adoption.’ (Job 38:7) (JFB)

‘Every species of fatherhood in the universe is derived from the original, archetypal Fatherhood of God: his is the only underived fatherhood. And the more nearly any fatherhood, natural or spiritual, approaches in character to God’s perfect Fatherhood, the more truly does it manifest fatherhood as God intended it to be.’ (Bruce)

‘We do not call God “Father” because we have human fathers—rather, we have human fathers because God is Father.’ (Matthew Lee Anderson)

This parenthetical reference to the fatherhood of God gives strength to Paul’s prayer. It is typical of him to appeal to some characteristic of God in support of prayer. See, for example, 2 Co 1:3.

3:16 I pray that according to the wealth of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner person, 3:17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, so that, because you have been rooted and grounded in love, 3:18 you may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 3:19 and thus to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.

NEB – ‘I kneel in prayer to the Father…that…he may grant you strength and power through his Spirit in your inner being…may you be strong to grasp with all God’s people, what is the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ, and to know it, though it is beyond knowledge…’

This is part of one of the most sublime of all of Paul’s prayers. The apostle prays that his readers might (a) be strengthened by the indwelling Christ; (b) be rooted and established in love; (c) know the love of Christ in all its dimensions; (d) be filled up to the fulness of God. Stott thinks of this prayer as a staircase, as Paul climbs higher and higher in his aspirations for his readers.

It is a prayer for spiritual growth. Becoming a Christian is not the end, but the beginning, of a journey in grace. It is true that faith, at its commencement, may be weak and fragile. It is true also that faith meets with much opposition. But God’s intention is that our faith should grow, that it should be strong, 6:10. Although our outward bodies are wasting away, 2 Cor 4:16, our inward being goes from strength to strength.

The gift which is prayed for here is ‘strength’. ‘Strengthened with power’ = powerfully strengthened. He has already prayed that they might ‘know’ God’s mighty power, 1:19; now he prays that they might have it. This empowering is ‘through his Spirit’. Paul wants them ‘to know the strength of the Spirit’s reinforcement’ (Phillips).

So:- (a) your spiritual life is most important; (b) look to God for power to begin, continue, and complete the Christian life; (c) seek to know this power more and more, Pr 4:18.

The Divine empowering

1. The agent of this power. It is through his Spirit. On the Holy Spirit’s power, see Acts 1:8 10:36 Rom 15:13 1 Cor 2:4 1 Thess 1:5. Acts tells the story of the powerful expansion of the Christian faith: there are nearly 60 references to the Holy Spirit in that book. Spiritual revival is not worked up, it is prayed down.

2. The location of this power. It is in your inner being. There are different kinds of power – physical, intellectual, social. But the ‘power of the Spirit’ is not found only in outward and visible manifestations, but (and especially) ‘in your inner being’ – the inner self, the heart, cf. v17. It is that self which I truly am when stripped of all pretence and disguise. Such power, then, is the power to believe, pray, resist, serve, rejoice, know, hope, overcome, witness. Cf. Col 1:11.

3. The source of this power. It is out of his glorious riches, cf. Eph 1:7; these are all of God’s divine perfections poured out for the salvation of his people. There is colossal power, extravagant love, rich mercy, radiant wisdom, etc. His riches are infinite, indefatigable, insuperable. When Paul prays that hia readers may be strengthened out of his glorious riches it is lit. ‘according to’ them; in proportion to them. Not according to the narrowness of our hearts, but according to the riches of his glory: his giving is without measure and without limit. We have no ability ourselves, Php 2:3; but 4:13.

‘Without denying the presence of the miraculous in the New Testament church, the clear emphasis of apostolic teaching is for believers to experience supernatural power in order to live as Christ in the world. To hope when all seems hopeless, to wait in faith when all human means are exhausted, to persevere in the midst of trials (a common theme in the New Testament), and, most of all, to love others (including our enemies) involves the experience of the supernatural as much as the performing of the miraculous does.’ (Saucy, in Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? p99)

‘The result of Christ’s presence is a strong spiritual foundation, which makes it possible to grow in spiritual insight. The two verbs combine agricultural (“rooted”) and construction (“grounded”) metaphors and function synonymously to emphasize the strong foundation that Christ provides for one’s life. Here they are not intended to add separate meanings to the context but work synonymously to emphasize the importance of Christ as the foundation stone of spiritual growth.’ (Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral)

The Divine Indwelling

God, of course, is present everywhere. However, he is said the ‘dwell’ wherever he specially manifests his presence, as in heaven, Ps 123:1; in Zion, Ps 9:11; and with his people, 2 Cor 6:16. Truly, Christ dwells in the hearts of all believers, but Paul’s prayer is that he may do so even more completely.

What? Dwell – it is not a temporary residence which is in mind here. (cf. Eph 2:19) The word indicates a permanent settling down somewhere. ‘Come not to sojourn, but abide with me.’ The same word is used for the fullness of the Godhead dwelling in Christ, Col 2:9. This indwelling is not a different experience from the strengthening which has just been mentioned, but another aspect of the same thing. Indeed, this indwelling is given a trinitarian treatment in the NT, with the Father, (2 Cor 6:16) the Son, (Gal 2:20 Col 1:27) and the Spirit in turn being said to dwell in the hearts of the faithful. ‘It is a mistake to imagine that the Spirit can be obtained without obtaining Christ; and it is equally foolish and absurd to dream that we can receive Christ without the Spirit’ (Calvin) On the co-dwelling the the Spirit and Christ, see Rom 8:9-10. The constant teaching of the NT is that strength for Christian living comes from the indwelling of Christ by the Holy Spirit. Jesus himself taught as much Jn 15:5.

Where? In your hearts – The heart is one’s inner self, one’s real self, as opposed to that self which is apparent to others. And this heart-knowledge of Christ, is opposed to a mere head-knowledge. It is one thing to know about him, to have opinions about him, to debate and discuss him. It is quite another to know him, for Christ to dwell in our hearts through faith. His presence brings power, as has just been mentioned; it also brings love, as Paul will proceed to show.

Because Christ dwells ‘in the heart’, it may not be immediately apparent to others. It has no definite outward or physical manifestation. And yet it is real.

Why does Paul pray that Christ might dwell in their hearts? Is this not already true of all Christians? Indeed, each Christian is indwelt by Christ, and is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Yet that indwelling admits of degrees. It is in need of constant reinforcement.

How? Through faith – faith is the door that opens the heart to Jesus, Rev 3:20, and it is faith that keeps the door open.

Lord Jesus, make my heart your throne, and from there both control and strengthen me!

‘Revival means the work of God restoring to a moribund church, in a manner out of the ordinary, those standards of Christian life and experience which the New Testament sets forth as being entirely ordinary; and a right-minded concern for revival will express itself…in a longing that the Spirit may shed God’s love abraod in our hearts with greater power. For it is with this (to which deep exercise of soul about sin is often preliminary) that personal revival begins, and by this that revival in the church, once begun, is sustained.’ (J.I Packer, Knowing God, 131)

Calvin comments: Many men have him in their mouth, and even also in their brain, as they hear him, and they think they acquit themselves well when they can prattle about him, but in the meanwhile there isno living root in them. It is not enough then to have some vague knowledge of Christ, or to engage in airy speculations, as they say, and to be able to talk a lot about him, but he must have his seat in our hearts within, so that we are unfeignedly joined to him, and with true affection. That is the way for us to be partakers of God’s Spirit.’

With What Effect? Rooted and established – Both are perfect participles in the Gk. (suggesting the present result of a past action): ‘having been rooted and having been established’. The first word is, of course, a horticultural metaphor, whereas the second is a building metaphor. Paul wants his readers to become like well-rooted trees, (Ps 1:1-3) or like buildings with strong foundations. The first is a picture of growth; the second of security.

May have power…to grasp – Paul wants all the saints to grasp the enormity of the love of Christ. How different is such knowledge from the mere intellectual comprehension which Paul opposes elsewhere, 1 Cor 1:22 Col 2:18,23 1 Tim 1:4 4:4.

With all the saints – Eph 4:7 ff will tell us that we can only grow in knowledge and faith as individuals when we work together for the edifying of the whole body.

We grasp the revelation of God in Christ not only by individual study and meditation, but also through the Christian community.  It would be the height of arrogance to value only the Holy Spirit’s instruction to ourselves, while ignoring what he has said to and through our fellow-believers.  ‘It was not to one man that he revealed the truths now enshrined in Scripture, but to a multiplicity of prophets and apostles; his work of illumination is given to many also.  It is not as individuals merely, but “with all the saints” that we are given “power…to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ…that surpasses knowledge”. (Stott, Understanding the Bible, 162)

How wide and long and high and deep – No mystical meaning attaches to the references to these four dimensions. The sole point is ‘the surpassing magnitude of Christ’s love for us’ (Salmond).

‘The believer must at all times remain aware of the true basis of spiritual knowledge. We can spend hours immersed in the academic pursuit of exegetical knowledge and yet fail to truly “know,” because knowledge rather than Christ is on the throne of our lives. Therefore, Paul goes on to pray that the Ephesians might “have power to grasp” spiritual truth. Both terms used here connote the depths of Paul’s desire. The first means “to have sufficient strength” to attain an ideal. It is a military or athletic term used often of power exerted to attain a goal. The second term is also military and often is used of “overtaking” and “seizing” an objective; here it is metaphorical and means to “comprehend” or “grasp” a truth. In this passage both aspects are present; the prayer is for “strength” to grasp actively the truths of Christ. This “power” is not achieved by one’s self but is a corporate act attained “with all the saints.” We cannot assimilate the “mystery” (Eph 3:9) or “manifold wisdom” (Eph 3:10) or “unfathomable riches” (Eph 3:6,8) apart from our brothers and sisters in Christ. The importance of the church as a whole in spiritual growth is stressed throughout the Epistle (Eph 1:12,15 2:18 4:3) and too often is ignored in the church today. Indeed Ephesians has with good reason been called the “body life” epistle, for the vertical aspect of the spiritual life is inseparable from horizontal fellowship.’ (Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral)

The love of Christ – ‘Christ’s love was free, not elicited by any goodness in us (Eph 2:1–5); it was eternal, being one with the choice of sinners to save which the Father made “before the creation of the world” (Eph 1:4); it was unreserved, for it led him down to the depths of humiliation and, indeed, of hell itself on Calvary; and it was sovereign, for it has achieved its object—the final glory of the redeemed, their perfect holiness and happiness in the fruition of his love (Eph 5:26–27), is now guaranteed and assured (Eph 1:14; 2:7–10; 4:11–16; 4:30). Dwell on these things, Paul urges, if you would catch a sight, however dim, of the greatness and the glory of divine love. It is these things that make up “his glorious grace” (Eph 1:6); only those who know them can praise the name of the triune Jehovah as they should.’ (Packer, Knowing God)

To know this love – To know its scale, its objects, its achievements. We can indeed know something of this love, for we have experienced it; and yet we cannot fully know it, because it surpasses knowledge.

That you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God – Not with God’s gifts, or attributes, but with God himself. There is no prayer loftier than this one. See Jn 1:16. The construction suggests the idea of a continuous process, one which is never completed in this life, and yet is a standard to which we must strive to attain. Another aspect of this process is that we are ‘predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son’, Rom 8:29.

‘To be “filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” is like filling a thimble to its brim with water from the ocean. The thimble is filled with the ocean, but the ocean is not fully in the thimble since the thimbleful of water does not diminish the ocean. Yet, the thimble has the “fulness” of the ocean in the sense that it contains every ingredient that makes up the ocean. All the essential characteristics of the ocean are in the thimble.’ (Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, 428)

Each Christian might ask: ‘How do I measure up?’ Only, let him make sure that he is measuring himself, not against the weakest, but against the strongest – God himself.

3:20 Now to him who by the power that is working within us is able to do far beyond all that we ask or think, 3:21 to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Paul seems to have realised that he has pushed human language beyond its limits, and has sought to articulate thoughts that defy expression.  And so, having reached the limit of human thought to conceive, and human language to express, he gathers himself once more for this final doxology: our minds and tongues have their limits, but God’s power is unlimited.

Just how far God’s power goes beyond our ability to conceive and express it is shown by the way in which Paul heaps up expression upon expression, superlative upon superlative:-

  • God is able to to
  • God is able to do what we ask
  • God is able to do what we ask or imagine
  • God is able to do all we ask or imagine
  • God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine

There is no limit to God’s power. The limitation is all on our side our hope, our expectation, our asking, our believing. ‘Stretch your thoughts as much as you can, there is that in God which exceeds; it is an infinite fullness. He is said to do abundantly for us, above all that we can ask. Eph 3:20. What can an ambitious spirit ask? He can ask crowns and kingdoms, millions of worlds; but God can give more than we can ask, nay, or think, because he is infinite. We can think, what if all the dust were turned to silver, if every flower were a ruby, every sand in the sea a diamond; yet God can give more than we can think, because he is infinite. Oh how rich are they who have the infinite God for their portion! Well might David say, ‘The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance. The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places, and I have a goodly heritage.’ Ps 16:5,6.’ (Thomas Watson)

John Newton had received from the Lord some almost unbelievable answers to his petitions, and so he often engaged in “large asking.” In support of this practice he would frequently tell the story of a man who asked Alexander the Great to give him a huge sum of money in exchange for his daughter’s hand in marriage. The ruler consented and told him to request of his treasurer whatever he wanted. So he went and asked for an enormous amount. The keeper to the funds was startled and said he couldn’t give him that much without a direct order. Going to Alexander, the treasurer argued that even a small fraction of the money requested would more than serve the purpose. “No,” replied Alexander, “let him have it all. I like that fellow. He does me honor. He treats me like a king and proves by what he asks that he believes me to be both rich and generous.” Newton concluded the story by saying, “In the same way, we should go to the throne of God’s grace and present petitions that express honorable views of the love, riches, and bounty of our King!”

To him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus – The church is the sphere of God’s glory, because it is the sphere of the outworking of God’s purpose here on earth. Moreover, it is the church’s goal to give praise and glory to God alone, and never to itself. But the bride is not thought of apart from the bridegroom.

‘The blessed activity of which believers have a foretaste even now but which in unalloyed and superabundant grandeur will be their portion in the intermediate state, and far more emphatically in the day of the great consummation, an activity with which the apostle is deeply concerned and for which he yearns in prayer, consists…in this, that forever and ever the members of the Father’s Family ascribe praise and honor to their Maker-Redeemer, whose love, supported by the illimitable power which raised Christ from the dead, will lift their hearts to higher and higher plateaus of inexpressible delight and reverent gratitude. Arrived in glory, their minds unobscured by sin, advance from on pinnacle of spiritual discovery to the next, in an ever ascending series. Their will, then fully delivered from all the enslaving shackles of willfulness, and invigorated with a constantly growing supply of power, find more and more avenues of rewarding expression.’ (Hendriksen)

How should we glorify God?

With head, hands, and heart.  With our heads: with our minds, our intellects.  This was the way that Paul preached the gospel – he taught, reasoned, persuaded, and explained.  And in this letter, too, he speaks of knowledge, understanding, wisdom, and insight.  With our hands: with practical deeds of love and kindness.  With our hearts: by an ever-deeper and ever-richer relationship with our heavenly Father.  Some of us are called especially to the intellectual task; many especially to the practical task.  But all are called to loving prayerful communion with God.  Now abide the head, the hands, and the heart, these three ways of glorifying God.  But the greatest of these is the heart.

Why should we glorify God?

Because he has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.  Because he destined us in love to be his sons.  Because in Christ we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses.  Because he has made know to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will.  Because we were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.  Because he raised Christ from the dead and made him sit at his right hand in the heavenly places.  Because he has put all things under his feet and has made him head over all things for the church, which is his body.  Because he made us alive, when we were dead in trespasses and sins.  Because he made us alive together with Christ, he raised us up with him and made us sit with him in the heavenly places.  Because we ar his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works…

We glorify God together

Note, please, that we are to glorify God collectively – ‘to him be glory in the church.’  It is when we are functioning together, as a whole, that God is honoured.  It is when we envy, resent, fight and despise each other that God is dishonoured.  We need each other: God intended it to be so.  It matters little if what we do at church seems old or new, conservative or progressive, lively or sedate.  But it does matter very much that we search the Scriptures, seek the mind of Christ, settle our major differences, and forget our minor ones.

The church is in union with Christ

Paul views the church in union with Christ: ‘To God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus.’  It is this union which assures us of victory.  ‘Without me’, said Christ, ‘you can do nothing.’  Our union with Christ is an unspeakably blessed thing.  According to Paul, in this letter,

  • Christ is the foundation, we are the building – it is a lasting union
  • Christ is the head, we are the body – it is a living union
  • Christ is the bridegroom, we are the bride – it is a loving union

We are called to glorify God for ever

We are called to glorify God ‘to all generations, for ever and ever’.  The apostle looks forward to a time when the church is complete, when we gather round the throne of God and glad and glorious reunion.  There in glory, our minds unobscured by sin, our wills set free from the shackles of wilfulness, our affections liberated from all that afflicts them here, we shall ascribe blessing and honour and glory and might to him who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb for ever and ever.

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