Text: Eph 3:1-13
Paul has just been speaking, Eph 2, about the new society that God has established. It is an international and a multi-racial society. There is a place in God’s new society for people from every nation, tribe, language and culture under heaven. In the past, God’s work had been primarily focussed on the Jewish people. But now Jews and Gentiles are offered salvation on precisely the same terms, and with exactly the same benefits and blessings.
At the beginning of ch. 3 Paul is about to embark on a prayer. But halfway through the very first sentence of his prayer he breaks off, still amazed and astounded at God’s new society, and the role with which he has been entrusted in it. Flogged, persecuted, derised, arrested, exiled, imprisoned. All these things were a small price to pay for the surpassing privilege of playing his part in God’s new society, the body of Christ, the church of God.
So, What has God done for the Church?
1. He has given it a glorious revelation, vv3-6 – ‘the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets.’ Christian truth is founded not on human discovery, but on divine revelation. As soon as the church shifts its ground, and moves away from the rock of divine revelation, it is on quicksand.
And what is the content of this revelation? What is it that has now been revealed? ‘This mystery is, v6, that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.’ God has put, as it were, all his eggs in the one basket. He has established one people, not many. He has provided one way, not several. Ask him what he’s going to do if the church lets him down, and his answer will be, “I have no other plans.” What a responsibility! What a revelation!
2. He has given it a glorious ministry, – When speaking of himself, he says, v8, ‘I am the less than the least of all the saints.’ But when he speaks of his ministry, v7, he says, ‘I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power.’ But Paul is a firm believer in every-member ministry. Eph 4:7 – ‘But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.’
In the light of this, I need to ask myself, what is my attitude towards the ministries of others? Do I find, for example, that there are certain Christian brothers and sisters about whom, and about whose ministries I have nothing good to say? Do I find that I am allowing grudges and tensions and disagreements to fester and that I have given up trying to find ways of resolving them. Do I find, that I am in danger of taking the ministries of others for granted and offering no thanks or support. If so, then I am in danger of despising the ministries with which God has so richly blessed his church.
V10 tells us that we are on show not only to the world, but to a vast host of unseen cosmic powers. What spectacle are we presenting to the angels? A display of divine wisdom, or of human folly?
3. He has given it a glorious message, v9 – ‘This grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.’ Why are our evangelistic efforts often so apologetic and half-hearted? Why is there so much uncertainty about whether Christians have the right to say, ‘Jesus is the only way to God?’ Such questions would quickly be settled, the moment we realised that the message we have received and believed, the message we commend to others, concerns the unsearchable riches of Christ. When we assert that Christ is only one way to God, we are doing this not out of personal arrogance, but out of an unshakeable conviction that in his person, in his teaching, in his love, in his achievements, in his gifts, in his demands, Christ can have no rivals. In him are unsearchable riches.
‘In him there are riches of mercy, love and compassion for sinners – riches of power to cleanse, pardon, forgive, and to save to the uttermost – riches of willingness to receive all who come to him repenting and believing – riches of ability to change by his Spirit the hardest of hearts and worst characters – riches of tender patience to bear with the weakest believer – riches of strength to help his people to the end, notwithstanding every foe without and within – riches of sympathy for all who are cast down and bring their troubles to him – and last, but not least, riches of glory to reward, when he comes again to raise the dead and gather his people to be with him in his kingdom.’ (Ryle)
4. He has given it a glorious privilege, v12 – ‘In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.’ Here is the answer to man’s religious quest: ‘How can guilty sinners such as we are, approach a holy God?’ It is in Christ, and through faith in Christ. Here too is the heart of the Christian’s spiritual experience: Heb 4:15f ‘For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.’
All of this is accomplished, v11, ‘according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord;’ that is to say, in union with Christ. The church cannot exist except in union with Christ; Christ chooses not to exist, except in union with his church. The good news, which so thrilled and amazed the apostle Paul, is that Christ died and rose again not only to redeem sinners like me, but to create a redeemed humanity; not only give us new life but to adopt us into God’s family; not only to reconcile us to God but to reconcile us to one another.
God has given his people a glorious revelation. Let us believe more completely.
God has given his people a glorious ministry. Let honour it more thoroughly.
God has given his people a glorious message. Let us share it more wholeheartedly.
God has given his people a glorious privilege. Let us enter into it more entirely.
‘Now,’ says Paul, ‘I’m ready to pray.’ May God out of his glorious riches strengthen us with power through his Spirit in our inner being, so that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith. May we, being rooted and established in love, have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that we may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.