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Bible Commentaries

The Popular Commentary by Paul E. Kretzmann

Ephesians 3

 

 

Verses 1-7

The Ministry of Paul for the Edification of the Church.

The revelation of knowledge to Paul:

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

v. 2. if ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you ward,

v. 3. how that by revelation He made known unto me the mystery, (as I wrote afore in a few words,

v. 4. whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ,)

v. 5. which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit,

v. 6. that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partaken of His promise in Christ by the Gospel,

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

In connection with the call of the Gentiles, Paul here discusses his apostolic vocation: For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus in behalf of you Gentiles. It is a very emphatic expression with which Paul opens this chapter. Because his readers, the majority of whom had been Gentiles, had now been brought near, had been made members of the household of God, therefore they should earnestly consider what he urges on them and what he does for them. Paul was at that time bound, a prisoner in Rome, waiting for the disposal of his case before the imperial court. He calls himself the prisoner of Christ in behalf of the Gentiles, because he was suffering this imprisonment for work done in his capacity as minister of Christ, and because it had been principally his proclamation of the Gospel among the Gentiles that had caused his arrest. Both the enmity of the Jews and the suspicion of the Roman government had been drawn down upon Paul because he preached Christ Crucified so fearlessly.

The thought of his apostolic ministry now causes Paul to digress with the purpose of bringing home to the Ephesians the scope and the glory of this ministry: If, indeed, you did hear of the administration of the grace of God given me toward you. Here is a tactful, gentle appeal: If so be that I may assume, if my trust in you was not misplaced; conveying the hope that his words had not been quite forgotten. God's special gift of grace to Paul was his apostleship among the Gentiles. Of this fact the Ephesian Christians had received information from the mouth of Paul himself; they had witnessed also how he had administered his office in their midst; they had heard, finally, how he was performing the work of his calling in other heathen countries.

The term "gift of God's grace" is now further explained: That by way of revelation was made known unto me the mystery. Even at the time of his conversion, when the Lord appeared to him on the way to Damascus, He had informed him of his call as apostle to the Gentiles, thereby revealing to him the mystery of his vocation. Paul had received neither the information concerning his call nor the subject matter of his proclamation from men, all this being imparted to him by the immediate action of Christ, Gal_1:12. To this he had referred briefly above, Eph_2:11-22, and he reminds his readers: By which, in accordance with which, when you read it, you get an idea of my understanding in the mystery of Christ. The paragraph concerning the gathering of the Church of Christ, the building of the holy temple of God, might serve as a criterion or standard, according to which, by means of which, the Ephesians would be enabled to judge, to get some idea of Paul's insight, of his critical understanding in the mystery relating to Christ, in the message of salvation and grace in Christ, especially as it concerned the Gentiles, Col_1:27; Col_4:3.

Of this mystery or message Paul writes: Which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men as now it was revealed to His holy apostles and prophets through the Spirit. The mystery relating to Christ as the Savior of mankind was indeed revealed to the patriarchs and prophets of old in type and prophecy. But in the times of the Old Testament generations the message was not generally known, nor was it so clear and unmistakable as in the time of the present fulfillment. To His holy apostles, who were incidentally prophets foretelling the future, God revealed the glorious facts concerning salvation in Christ through His Holy Spirit. By the teaching of the Spirit these men gained a full understanding of the relation between prophecy and fulfillment, of the ministry of Christ, Luk_24:44-48, of the significance of Christ's death and resurrection, 1Co_15:1-58, and many other facts connected with the life and work of the Redeemer.

The content of the mystery as it specifically concerned the Gentiles, was: That the Gentiles are fellow-heirs and fellow-members and fellow-partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel. The apostle piles up the terms in order to emphasize as strongly as possible the full equality of the Gentile Christians with those of Jewish descent. The Gentiles are heirs with the members of believing Israel, Rom_8:17, of all the blessings held out to the children; they belong jointly to the same body as the Jewish Christians, to the body of Christ; the same promise of eternal salvation in Christ Jesus is extended to them through the preaching of the Gospel. "The three terms describe the Gentiles, therefore, first generally as heirs together with the believing Jews in all things, and then more particularly as belonging equally with them to the same corporate body and sharing equally with them in the Messianic promise."

Paul is careful to avoid even the suggestion of smug self-congratulation in the matter of his office: Of which (Gospel) I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given me according to the operation of His power. Even the remotest form of supercilious bearing was unbearable to the apostle, excelling, as he did, in meekness. He became a minister of the Gospel, a servant, not because of any personal merit, but by reason of the free gift of God's grace. He considered his office a gift of which he was not worthy. And it was not his own wisdom, personal magnetism, or any other talent that was effective in his work, but the power of God. The transcendent greatness of God's gracious power is efficacious as well in those that preach the Gospel as in those that hear and believe it. Mark: This fact, that the gift of teaching is bestowed, "not according to the receptivity of the recipient, but according to the efficiency of the Giver," should be kept in mind by all members of the Church that are engaged in the work of teaching the Gospel.


Verses 8-13

The humility of the apostle and the greatness of his mission:

v. 8. unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ;

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

v. 10. to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the Church the manifold wisdom of God,

v. 11. according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus, our Lord;

v. 12. in whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of Him.

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

The apostle here takes up once more the thought of v. 2, joining it in a very skillful manner with the preceding verse: To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, was given this grace, to preach to the Gentiles the incomprehensible wealth of Christ. As Paul, 1Co_15:9, calls himself the least of the apostles, and, 1Ti_1:15, chief of sinners, so he here, by the formation of a comparative of a superlative, tries to express his feeling of unworthiness for the glorious office of the ministry. This is by no means false modesty, as liberal critics are carpingly saying, for Paul was well able to defend his office upon occasion, but it was true humility, such as should cause every pastor and every worker in the Church to make this verse his motto. It was the thought of the supreme dignity of the office which he had received at the cost of such boundless grace which could not fail to evoke Paul's sense of his own utter unworthiness. That fact, that he was to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, that he was to proclaim to them the unsearchable riches of Christ, overwhelmed him as an evidence of God's unmerited grace. Unsearchable, incomprehensible riches he calls them, such as are unfathomable, past finding out, to which no footsteps lead that might enable men to find out the fullness of the divine salvation for themselves, to understand the spiritual, heavenly blessings in Christ by their own power of comprehension.

There is also another purpose connected with the ministry: And to enlighten all men as to what is the administration of the mystery which from all ages has been hidden in God, who creates all things. All men by nature are in the dark concerning the Gospel and its wonderful message of free grace. Therefore it is necessary that they be enlightened, that they be shown, that they be turned from darkness to light, 2Co_4:4; 2Pe_1:19; Act_26:18. They must be told that the mystery concerning the salvation of all men, including the Gentiles, is now openly proclaimed and applied to all men. This news was hidden since the world began; no man can conceive of it, can grasp it by nature. But now it has been revealed and realized in God, the Creator of all things. As such the almighty Lord creates and arranges the ages of the world; He puts into execution at His time what He has long kept hidden. Thus the Church of Christ owes her existence to the creative power of God. The Church is a new creation in that very form that it consists of Gentiles as well as Jews. So the greatness of the gift of grace entrusted to Paul, the beauty and power of the Gospel-ministry, is again brought out; for the Christian Church, which is thereby perfected, is, in its ultimate form, the spiritual part of mankind, whose principal thought is to give all honor to Him that created all things.

Since, moreover, the call of Paul made him a minister of the Gospel to the Gentiles, the aim of his work was: in order that there might be made known now unto the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, through the Church, the manifold wisdom of God. The purpose of Paul's preaching was the gathering of the Church, which is synonymous with the revelation or administration of the mystery which had been hidden in God. Through the Church, therefore, according to God's intention, even the principalities and powers of heaven should be acquainted with the many-sided wisdom of God, with the wisdom which has so many different forms, which manifests itself in so many different ways. The angels of God, who have a decided interest in the redemption of mankind, 1Pe_1:22, are eager to learn ever more of the wisdom of the almighty Lord, who makes use of so many different ways and means to build His Church and thus to realize the purpose of creation. Through the Church, in the Church, the interest of the angels is satisfied; they receive an insight into its workings, into the gracious purposes of God, into the splendid results which are bound to attend His efforts; and they raise their voices in songs of praise and adoration to Him whose wisdom and mercy are from everlasting.

The apostle now elaborates his thought, that he has been given this ministry for the purpose of realizing God's merciful aims among men, by adding: According to the purpose of the ages, which was made in Christ Jesus, our Lord. This eternal purpose or intention is no other than that which Paul has discussed in the first part of this letter, the purpose which resulted in the election of grace. Upon this purpose of God is based also the apostleship of Paul, since its object is to collect the chosen children of God out of all nations of the world, to bring them together into one body, under the headship of Christ. God chose His own in Jesus Christ: the knowledge of this election had to be transmitted through the Gospel; the ministry of the Gospel was entrusted to the apostle. Therefore he can say of the time in which he was writing: in whom we have our boldness and access in confidence through our faith in Him. He includes his own person with that of his readers, thus speaking for all believers. Since these facts are known to us, therefore we Christians have freedom of spirit, cheerful boldness, the courageous mood of those that are reconciled to God. For we have access to God, the way to the Throne of Grace is open, chap. 2:18. We approach, then, with confidence, not with any reliance upon our own works and merits, hut through our faith in Him, Christ being the ground of our cheerful confidence. We may now enter into the presence of God without misgivings, with all boldness and confidence, as dear children come to their dear father.

In concluding this section, Paul adds an appeal to the Ephesian Christians: Wherefore I beseech you that you do not grow faint in my tribulations in your behalf, which are your glory. There was some danger that the disciples at Ephesus, hearing of the imprisonment of Paul, might be tempted to grow weak and faint-hearted, to lose courage, to believe the cause of Christianity doomed. But Paul wants them to put thoughts of this nature far from them. Because they, the former Gentiles, had, through the labor of the apostle, received the wealth of Christ and become members of the Church of Christ, therefore they were not to permit their joy over this blessing to be embittered by the remembrance of his sufferings, not to yield to the spirit of discouragement; for these tribulations were a necessary part of his office, they belonged to the cross which the minister of Christ must expect to bear, and before God they redounded, not to their shame, but to their glory. The Ephesians knew that their leader was not despondent in the trials which he must undergo, and therefore they should profit by his example and persevere in their Christian conviction.


Verses 14-19

The apostle's petition for the Church, which includes an exhortation:

v. 14. for this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

v. 15. of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named,

v. 16. that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might by His spirit in the inner man;

v. 17. that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love,

v. 18. may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height;

v. 19. and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God.

The apostle now resumes the thread of his discourse, which he interrupted after v. 1 to speak of the ministry of his apostleship: For this reason I bend my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, after whom every family in heaven and earth is named. Because the Ephesian Christians have, by the labor of Paul, been added to the Church of Christ, because he is their teacher, their apostle, therefore he feels it his duty to bend his knees in prayer for these souls entrusted to his care. Luther expresses Paul's thoughts as follows: "I must lie here a prisoner and cannot be with yon nor help you in any other way, only that I can bend my knees, that is, with all humility and seriousness pray to God that He might give you, and work in you, what neither I nor any other person can do, even if I had my liberty and were with you always. " The God to whom Paul addresses his urgent intercession is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and therefore the true Father of every believer. Particularly, however, is He the Father after whom every generation, or family, of God's children, all people who through Christ Jesus have been reborn to a new spiritual life, is named. All the assemblies of the children of God, whether here on earth or in heaven, in the midst of the holy angels, bear their name from the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; they all stand in the same, in the equal relation of children to Him; they all form one great family, every member of which may ask and expect only the highest and richest of blessings from the Parent above.

In this sense Paul introduces the subject of his prayer: That He would grant you according to the wealth of His glory to be strengthened in might through His Spirit into the inner man. God has a wealth, a great amount, of excellence, majesty, and perfection; from His fullness we can always receive, and grace for grace, Joh_1:16. Paul boldly asks the measure of the gift of God's perfection which will bring into full play this inexhaustible wealth. For only thus can the Christians grow mightily in strength, in spiritual power, only thus, namely, through the working of His Spirit, can the new inner man, the regenerated self of the Christians, make progress in faith and in holiness. God's strengthening grace must be poured into the inner man day after day, the gift of His power must be directed toward this object without ceasing, otherwise the new spiritual life will soon become extinguished.

This idea is developed still further: That Christ may dwell through faith in your hearts. Not only the gifts and virtues of Christ, but the exalted Christ personally lives in the hearts of His believers, Gal_2:20. There is the most intimate, the most happy communion between Christ and the Christians, begun in conversion, but in need of daily growth and strengthening, for it is through faith that Christ dwells in the heart, and the loss of faith in the forgiveness of sins means the loss of Christ Himself. If Christ does not live in us, grow in us, day after day, His power will soon diminish and His picture fade away. But with Christ in the heart, there is steady progress: That you, firmly rooted and grounded in love, be fully able to comprehend with all the saints what the breadth and the length and the depth and the height is. Love is the proof and test of faith. If Christ lives in the heart by faith, then love toward God and love toward one's neighbor will follow as a matter of course. And with the growth of faith in the form of firm confidence, love will also take a firmer hold on the Christian; it will be set as solidly as a root takes hold of the ground from which it derives strength and life. Thus the condition is obtained which enables the believer fully to understand, to get a mental grasp of, what is the breadth and length and height and depth. ALL the saints should have this understanding, all the believers should grow in Christian knowledge. And in the connection in which the apostle here writes, he undoubtedly has in mind the Church with its immense dimensions. This building extends over the entire world from North to South, from East to West, through all periods of time until the last day; it includes the believers that are now sleeping in their graves, and reaches to the heavens, where its exalted Ruler sits at the right hand of God. The Church embraces the fullness of the elect, not only of Israel, but also of the Gentile world—a poor, small crew in the sight of men, but a mighty assembly before the omniscient eye of God.

And finally, Paul prays for the Christians that they might be strengthened: To know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, the knowledge-surpassing love of Christ, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. It is an incomprehensible, indescribable, immeasurable love by which Christ has founded the Church, by which He builds and extends it, a love which overcomes the hardest hearts, which influences even the greatest criminals, and always with the aim of building up the Church. This love is beyond the capacity of the human mind and intelligence, but the enlightened Christian will be able to get at least some idea of its extent and power, of its miraculous power in gaining lost sinners for Christ and the Church. And with the growth in this knowledge the hope and prayer of the apostle will finally be fulfilled, namely, that the Christians will be filled unto all the fullness of God, that this goal may be reached in them. It is a fullness of grace possessed and bestowed by God, the full measure of His gracious gifts to which the apostle has reference. Upon this measureless source the believers draw, increasing daily in virtues and blessings, as vessels of God's mercy; themselves the possessors of boundless love and expending freely therefrom to the praise and honor of God. Though this ideal fail of full realization in this life, it is worth striving for with untiring energy.


Verse 20-21

Concluding doxology:

v. 20. Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us,

v. 21. unto Him be glory in the Church by Jesus Christ throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.

As in other instances, Rom_11:33-36; Gal_1:5; 1Ti_1:17, the apostle closes this section of his letter with a doxology. He addresses himself to God, who is able to do beyond all, exceeding abundantly above what we ask or think. The program which Paul has outlined is of a nature to make the average Christian hesitate, so much does it embrace. But his reference to the almighty power of the gracious God quiets all doubts. He is able, according to the power which is active in us, of whose greatness we have indisputable evidence, to do and perform in our behalf far more than we can even think of asking for, far more than our feeble understanding can grasp. "I can do all things through Christ, which strengtheneth me," Php_4:13. The miracles which we have experienced in our own hearts and lives in our state of being Christians, since our conversion, are a guarantee to us that God will be able to carry out all His plans and intentions with regard to our salvation and sanctification. The apostle's prayer will therefore surely not be in vain. And so we join with him in saying: Unto Him be the glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus to all generations of the eternity of eternities. In the Church His glory shall be proclaimed; the entire Church should confess that the praise is not due to men, neither to the apostles and preachers nor to the individual members, but to God alone; therefore His glory shall be forever extolled. And our prayer of thanksgiving rises to the throne of God in Christ Jesus, our Redeemer and Mediator, forever and ever. Here we make but a feeble beginning with our psalms and hymns of praise; the real chorus will sound forth in a mighty, never-ending anthem when we shall join the choirs of the blessed angels and sing His praises, world without end. Amen, that is, yea, yea, it shall be so.

Summary

The apostle praises the grace which was given him in his ministry to the Gentiles, since its object was to collect the chosen children of God in a Church which was to be the pride and delight of God and the holy angels; he prays that the Christians may grow in faith and love and understand ever better the general character and wide extent of the Church of Christ.

 


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Bibliography Information
Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Ephesians 3:4". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/kpc/ephesians-3.html. 1921-23.


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