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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Ephesians 3

 

 

Verses 1-6

God’s New Revelation Is Revealed in His Making the Church Into the New Israel.

‘For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ on behalf of you Gentiles - if so be that you have heard of that stewardship of the grace of God which was given to me for your benefit, how that by revelation was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in few words, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men as it has now been revealed to his holy Apostles and Prophets in the Spirit, which is that the Gentiles are fellow-heirs, and fellow-members of the body, and fellow-partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.’

Paul begins his sentence and then diverts as another thought strikes him. He suddenly decides that, having declared this message of the oneness of Jews and Gentiles in Christ, he must establish a firm basis for his authority to speak in this way. It is possible, though not certain, that his return to his theme is in Ephesians 3:14 (it could, for example, be Ephesians 4:1 where he again refers to his being a prisoner in the Lord).

‘For this reason - .’ Because of what he has been saying in the previous chapter.

‘I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles.’ His forthright teaching of these facts, and his fight for the full inclusion of the Gentiles without circumcision (because they are already circumcised in Christ - Colossians 2:11), has brought about his imprisonment. He is a prisoner for their sakes. Had he been willing to accept circumcision and submission to the ritual law he would not have been so persecuted.

‘The prisoner of Christ Jesus.’ This was so in two senses. Firstly in that the reason why he was a prisoner was because of his service for Christ Jesus, but secondly because there was a sense in which Christ had made him a prisoner for the furtherance of the Gospel and for the benefit of the Gentiles (Philippians 1:12-14). He was Rome’s prisoner, but he was also Christ’s prisoner.

‘You Gentiles.’ This may suggest that the letter is for a wider audience of Gentiles than just a church he has founded, but not necessarily so, for he may merely be emphasising that it is as the Apostle to the Gentiles that he suffers on their behalf. Either way Paul is establishing his position so that even those who do not know him will recognise his authority. And this is what then makes him switch his thoughts to a different topic.

‘If so be that you have heard of that stewardship of the grace of God which was given me for your benefit, how that by revelation was made known to me the mystery - .’

‘If so be that you have heard.’ This again suggests that he has in mind many who have not personally heard him, although this could in fact be referring to some who became Christians after he left Ephesus. He has decided he needs to establish his credentials, for if they have heard previously what he is about to say they will have no difficulty in recognising that he is a prisoner on their behalf.

‘Of that stewardship of the grace of God which was given me for your benefit.’ This stewardship is his Apostleship to the Gentiles. He has been entrusted with the message of God’s free grace to all, which especially, (at least outwardly), benefits the Gentiles, for among other things it makes them fellow-heirs with the believing Jews (Philippians 1:6).

Alternately he may mean that the stewardship was given to him by the grace of God (compare Galatians 1:15) and consists in the content of the revelation he is about to speak of.

‘How that by revelation was made know to me the mystery - .’ Either way his position was finally established by the special revelation that God gave him. Compare on this revelation Galatians 1:12-17. What he was bringing to them was not what men had taught him, not even the Apostles, it was what was personally revealed in him by God.

Some would restrict this to the revelation on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3-6), but there seem good grounds for thinking that it included further revelation, possibly during his time in Arabia (Galatians 1:17). Was that for forty days like his Master? (During the ‘three years’ he had a solid period of ministry in Damascus of ‘many days’ - Acts 9:23 - thus he was not in Arabia for three years). Consider the man in Christ who was lifted up into Heaven (2 Corinthians 12:2). He learned and experienced that which was to be the basis of his ministry, and it is not necessary to assume that all that he heard was unlawful to utter.

Certainly the revelation, whether it came by meditation on his experience or by further special revelation from the Lord, included ‘the mystery’ (in the New Testament the idea of ‘mystery’ indicates what had been hidden but was now revealed. It was no longer a mystery to those who were taught), the fact of the full acceptance of the Gentiles.

‘As I wrote before in a few words.’ This may refer to Ephesians 2:11-22 or even Ephesians 1:3-14. Or it could refer to a previous letter, or even to the letter to the Colossians, or that to the Galatians, passed on to other churches.

‘Whereby when you read you can perceive my understanding in the mystery of Christ.’ What was written made clear his full understanding in Christ’s mystery re the Gentiles. Either the previous verses or Galatians or Colossians would suit this admirably. All made known the acceptance of the Gentiles by God in full measure without circumcision.

‘Which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy Apostles and Prophets in Spirit (or ‘by the Spirit’).’

The mystery of Christ, now revealed, was not known in previous generations to ‘the sons of men’, that is men in general (this description may suggest, but not necessarily, that it was known to some who were not the sons of men, i.e. ‘the bene elohim - ‘the sons of God’ (the angels) and/or the Spirit-inspired Prophets). But now it has been revealed to His holy Apostles and Prophets. ‘Holy’ means set apart for God for a special purpose. All the people of God are sanctified and therefore ‘holy’, because they have been set apart for God and endued with His Spirit (1 Corinthians 1:2), and thus it is even more so of the Apostles and Prophets. Paul wants us to know that they have been set apart by God and are uniquely His.

‘As it has now been revealed to His holy Apostles and Prophets in Spirit, (or ‘by the Spirit’).’ Who are these Prophets? The fact is that nowhere else does Paul give such status to New Testament prophets. While therefore this is considered by many to refer to such New Testament prophets there are weighty arguments against it, and consideration must be given to the fact that he may well mean the Old Testament Prophets as now revealing more fully by the Spirit the significance of what they had prophesied. For in Romans 16:25 he says that the mystery ‘is now manifested, andby the scriptures of the Prophets -- - is made known to all’. This clearly links the Old Testament Prophets with the revealing of the mystery, and 1 Peter 1:10 says the Old Testament Prophets ‘prophesied of the grace that would come’ to them. And these Prophets are constantly appealed to (Romans 1:2; Romans 16:26; James 5:10; 1 Peter 1:10; 2 Peter 3:2) while the New Testament prophets are never elsewhere appealed to in this way or put on such equivalence with the Apostles.

Furthermore it is the Old Testament Prophets who are called ‘holy Prophets’ in 2 Peter 3:2, and the Apostles are directly connected with these Prophets in Revelation 18:20 (compare Revelation 18:24) with ‘Apostles’ coming first. ‘Prophets in Spirit’ may thus well mean that what the Prophets wrote, and did not fully understand, is now ‘by the Spirit’ through their writings being made known and revealed on earth, while also possibly being now made known to them by the Spirit in their heavenly existence as they are aware of events on earth (see Hebrews 12:1 and compare the awareness of delayed judgment in Revelation 6:10-11. Consider also Ephesians 3:10. If the principalities and powers could know, why not the prophets?).


Verse 6

‘That is that the Gentiles are fellow-heirs, and fellow-members of the body, and fellow-partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.’

This is the revealed mystery, that the Gentiles come on the same basis as believing Jews and partake of all the promises of God without having to become Jewish proselytes. They are fellow-heirs. That means that on believing they inherit the promises made to Abraham and the Prophets, and now belong to the commonwealth of the true Israel. They are fellow-members of the body. This is the body mentioned in Ephesians 2:16, the new man made of both Jew and Gentile united with Christ. The Greek for ‘body’ is ‘sussoma’, a combination of ‘sun’ (with) with ‘soma’ (body). The emphasis is thus not on the body but on the oneness of it. Thus they are no longer alienated. They are fellow-partakers of the promise. Thus they are no longer strangers to the promises. They are one body together ‘in Christ’, joint heirs, joint members, joint beneficiaries.

‘In Christ Jesus through the Gospel.’ This is how the miracle has been brought about, through the offering of Christ Jesus on the cross as a sacrifice as proclaimed in the Gospel and by their being united with Him in His body (Ephesians 2:13; Ephesians 2:16; 1 Corinthians 1:17-18).

It is difficult for us to appreciate how great this change was. As a Pharisee Paul had believed implicitly in the precedence of the Jews in all things related to God. The Gentiles were in the shadows, with a comparatively few coming humbly to take hold of the coat tails of the Jews. But now all this is turned upside down. Now all God’s ways are open to all who believe on equal terms, and all are equal in God’s sight.


Verse 7

‘Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God which was given me according to the working of His power.’

In mentioning the Gospel given to the Gentiles he cannot but remember how God graciously took him and made him a minister of that Gospel to the Gentiles (Galatians 2:7-8).

‘According to that gift of the grace of God which was given me.’ This means that the gift sprang from the grace of God and that he recognised the wonder of that gift. It was given to him solely as the act of God’s grace even while he was in the womb (Galatians 1:15), and it was revealed in the Damascus Road experience (Acts 9:15-16).

‘According to the working of His power.’ As ever when the gift was given the power resulted. He experienced the mighty power of God at work through him (compare Ephesians 1:19). That is the test of the true gift of God, that He works through it with power.


Verse 8

‘Unto me who am less than the least of all saints was this grace given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.’

The more Paul preached and proclaimed the Gospel, the more humbled he became that he could be allowed such a wonderful privilege. Having just spoken of ‘the holy Apostles’, which would include himself, he assures them that the ‘holiness’ is due to God’s grace not his merit. Many may say such words for effect but few genuinely feel it as Paul did. This is the test of the really great man. He began by seeing himself as the least of the Apostles, not fit to be an Apostle because he persecuted the church of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:9), but now he sees himself as the lowest of all the people of God. Later he would recognise himself as the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15).

‘Was this grace given.’ No man deserves the privilege. Once again he repeats that it is a gift of God’s grace. Sadly many a preacher is lacking in this genuine recognition, and all are in danger of being lacking and must be watchful. Pride is a subtle enemy.

‘To preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.’ What vast treasures this covers. The whole of eternity is summed up in these words. The unsearchable riches of Christ, riches so great and so vast that their depths cannot be plumbed, and they are now offered to all irrespective of race, through Christ and His indwelling.


Verses 9-12

‘And to make all men see what is the stewardship of the mystery, which from all ages has been hid in God who created all things, to the intent that now to the principalities and the powers in the heavenly places might be made known through the church the many sided wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access in confidence through our faith in him.’

‘To make all men see.’ Paul is desirous that the whole world should know, and indeed is commanded that it should be so.

‘What is the stewardship of the mystery.’ He wants them to see ‘the stewardship of the mystery’, that is, the carrying out into effect of the mystery by God in the church of God with its indwelling by Jesus Christ. For this is the wonder of the mystery, that Christ is in them the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27), so that they will become like Him, will partake in His glory, and will through the ages continully reveal that glory (compare 2 Corinthians 3:18; John 17:22). That is God’s purpose in Christ.

‘Which from all ages has been hid in God Who created all things.’ This mystery was kept secret in the heart of God even from before creation, and has now been made known in Christ.

‘To the intent that now the principalities and the powers in the heavenly places.’ This probably means all heavenly beings both unfallen and fallen (for the latter compare Ephesians 6:12). They were created by Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:16) and have a part in the spiritual realm into which Christians have now been brought through the Spirit, some being helpful (Hebrews 1:14) and some being antagonistic (Ephesians 6:12). Many ancient religious non-Christian creeds produced whole hosts of heavenly beings of great varieties. Whatever they are, says Paul, they can only stand in awe at the church of God through whom God is carrying out His purposes. We may wonder at angels. They wonder at us.

‘Might be made known through the church the many sided wisdom of God.’ All such beings are to see the many sided (variegated) wisdom of God, either through the activity of the called out people of God, the Christ indwelt church, or perhaps just through its very existence, although the one assumes the other; and especially by its final presentation before God as the unblemished ‘wife’ of Christ (Ephesians 5:26-27).

‘According to the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ The great mystery of the church is that, having been redeemed and sanctified, they are indwelt by the risen Christ, ‘Christ in you the hope of glory’ (Colossians 1:27), and enjoy His unsearchable riches. But this indwelling is not of some great organisation called ‘the church’, but of living members of the church, who are each indwelt by Christ (Ephesians 3:17; Galatians 2:20) and who must each be presented perfect in Christ (Colossians 1:28), and yet are united as one in Him.

‘Christ Jesus our Lord’. A phrase used only here (but compare Colossians 2:6 where it is used without ‘our’). It is intended to emphasise the majesty and glory of Christ (‘the Christ, Jesus our Lord’, compare Acts 2:36).

‘In Whom we have boldness and access in confidence through our faith in Him.’ Their being possessed by Christ makes His people confident in their approach to God, for they come through Him. Thus they come boldly to the throne of grace to obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16), and find that their access is sure. ‘Confident access.’ Not blase or arrogant, not thoughtless or presumptious, but humble and joyful because we come through Him.


Verse 13

‘Wherefore I ask that you may not faint at my tribulations for you, which are your glory.’

Some of his readers were clearly very constrained at what Paul was enduring. They were dispirited and concerned. Why did God not step in and deliver him so that he could carry on with his powerful ministry. What would happen when he was gone? How could the church survive? Do not worry says Paul, my sufferings are your glory. Either a cause for them to glory, or will result in glory for them, or both. Without his imprisonment there may well have been no letters, and what would we have done then?

‘Tribulations.’ The word means literally ‘squeezings’ or ‘pressings’, being pressed in and afflicted by circumstances.


Verses 14-17

‘For this reason I bow my knees to the Father from whom every Fatherhood in Heaven and on earth is named, that he would grant you according to the riches of his glory, that you may be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.’

Paul now feels constrained to express his prayer on their behalf. Prison gave much time for praying and Paul used it to the full. Aware of the future they faced he prayed for their divine empowering without which they could not hope to succeed.

‘For this reason.’ Because of the wonder of what God is doing, and because He has made them all one on Christ.

‘I bow my knees to the Father.’ Father He may be, but He is the divine Father. Thus Paul kneels in submission and worship. Boldness and confident access do not make him careless in his approach. Besides he has deep matters to deal with.

‘To the Father from Whom every fatherhood situation in Heaven and on earth is named.’ There is a play of words here between ‘pater’ (father) and ‘patria’ (family, fatherhood situation). The whole hierarchy of existence went down through fatherhood. God was Father of all. Then reflecting His Fatherhood came national and tribal leaders, including Abraham. Then came heads of the sub-tribes and families. Then the head of the individual family. And the same was so among the heavenly beings (‘in Heaven’). It is the whole pattern of existence. And the whole pattern of fatherhood is based on God’s Fatherhood. He is the supreme example of Fatherhood.

In all cases ‘the father’ was responsible for maintenance of unity, for justice and for the well-being of his family. Thus here the supreme Father is being approached about the well-being of His family (compare John 17:11).

‘That he would grant you according to the riches of His glory.’ He calls on all the resources of the Godhead, ‘the riches of His glory’, confident that He will supply from the riches of His glory and in accordance with it.

‘That you may be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man.’ The unique feature of the new people of God is that the Spirit of God has come among them and has entered in to them. They are born of the Spirit, sealed by the Spirit, being filled with the Spirit. They are Spirit possessed (in the right sense), filled with the dynamic of the Spirit. And this by the Spiritof God. Thus he prays that each member may learn to so yield to the Spirit that His full empowering might understay their whole being.

‘Strengthened.’ To be fortified, braced, invigorated.

‘In the inner man.’ The inner depths of a man that some call the soul, the centre of his being. In the Christian it is being renewed day by day, and delights in the precepts of God. Compare Romans 7:22; 2 Corinthians 4:16.

‘That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.’ He is addressing the whole church, and yet each individual member of that church. Each individual heart is in mind. To Paul the church is not an organisation or a society. It is a living body composed of individual living members. It throbs with the life of its members. And his prayer is that they may each experience the indwelling of Christ to the full, Christ revealing Himself in them, Christ living through them, Christ in them the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27; Galatians 2:20; John 14:18; John 14:20; John 14:23; John 17:23; John 17:26). Each member is daily to allow Christ to reveal Himself through their lives. Thus will the whole reveal Him in greater fullness.


Verses 14-21

Paul’s Prayer for His Readers (3:14-21).

‘For this reason -.’ Compare Ephesians 3:1 which begins in the same way. Does this mean that this is the continuation that he would have made had he not made a diversion? There are good grounds for suggesting that that occurs in Ephesians 4:1 when he returns to the theme of the prisoner of the Lord, and exhorts them to walk worthily of their calling and maintain the unity of the Spirit.

We may equally see the prayer here as resulting from his outlining of the mystery of God to be revealed through the church of Christ. In order to complete their destiny they will need divine empowering in order to fulfil their responsibilities and fulfil His eternal purpose.


Verses 17-19

Enjoying the empowering of the Spirit and the indwelling of the risen Christ their very being will be rooted and grounded in love, for love is the basis of their salvation (John 3:16; Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:9-10), the nest in which they find their rest (1 John 4:8), the goal ever set before them (1 John 4:11). And it is the love of Christ which is beyond all knowledge. It is something that is so vast that its breadth, length, height and depth will take all the people of God through all ages to fathom. And being filled with that love we will be filled with all the fullness of God, thus becoming the fullness of Him Who fills all in all (Ephesians 1:23).

‘That you may be filled unto all the fullness of God.’ God is ready to give of Himself as much as we will receive. Each Christian may receive of that fullness to the measure that He is willing and able to receive it, and all the members of His true church as a whole may receive it, for it is inexhaustible and beyond measure. And the more they are open to Him the more they will receive of His fullness until they are completely filled.

In Colossians 2:2 Paul expresses his similar longing that the hearts of God’s people might be knitted together in love resulting in a full knowledge of Christ, in Whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. If we would fully know Christ we must first love, and as we love we will know more and more, and as we know more and more we will love more and more, and so it will go on. And this love is not what the world calls love. It is true, deep, spiritual love, like the love of God. And it results in revealing God-likensess to the world (Matthew 5:48).

The words for breadth, length, height and depth were all words used in contemporary literature to speak of cosmogonies and heavenly hierarchies, and Paul deliberately takes them over to express the wonder of God’s love to and through His people. That love is beyond all, plumbing greater heights and depths than any supposed semi-divine beings could ever know or be.

‘Rooted and grounded.’ Love, the love of God revealed in Christ, is the soil of the Christian, in which we are planted, His love that surrounds us and assists our growth unfolding that love in our hearts so that we begin to love as He loves. The language is of the soil and not of the building. There is no temple in mind here. (Note how he actually avoids saying ‘rooted and built up’ as in Colossians 2:7). It connects with the significance of John’s baptism as the product of the rain-drenched earth. The Spirit is poured down and the roots grow and flourish (Isaiah 44:2-5).

‘May be strong to apprehend.’ In extra-Biblical literature the verb means ‘to acquire power, to prevail’. By His strengthening we are made strong to apprehend the full panoply of love, not only to appreciate it but also to firmly lay hold on it. When light came into the world mankind did not lay hold of it (John 1:1-18). But those who were His people did. They received it and laid hold of it right gladly. And now they must also apprehend with strength the love it revealed. They may bask in it but that is not all. They must also take it and make it their own, allowing it to posses them and flow through them. They are to be revelations of His love.

‘With all God’s people (the saints).’ It will take the whole of the people of God to apprehend the whole, for none are sufficient of themselves to reveal God’s infinite love. We will need each other. Not one must be lacking. There is no room for inner circles here.

‘What is the breadth and length and height and depth.’ Some would see in this the dimensions of the Temple of chapter Ephesians 2:20-22 in terms of Ezekiel’s heavenly archetype. The idea being that it is depicting a Temple of the love of God which we may enter and enjoy in all its fullness as we recognise its huge dimensions, so that we can, by being united in it, grasp and know the wonder of the love of Christ, and as one Temple know and experience the fullness of His people and our part with them, the very fullness of God. But there has not been a hint of such a temple since he digressed in Ephesians 3:1 and this interpretation, true though it is, is laying too much stress on an uncertain connection. Paul could not go on as though he had not digressed and expect his readers to appreciate the fact. Had he wished them to do so he would somehow have indicated it. Rather it surely has in mind divine dimensions, the divine dimensions of love using language plundered from the mysteries to depict an even greater and all consuming mystery. God’s love is as broad and long and wide and deep as anything in the whole creation and beyond.

‘And to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge.’ Glorious contradiction. It is a love which passes knowledge and yet we can know it. Many a mother gives herself wholly for her children, but none even faintly to the extent to which He gives Himself for us. It is beyond our comprehension. But there is a play on the word ‘know’ here. We can know it, we can know it fully in our experience, but without even beginning to comprehend its vastness which is beyond knowledge.

‘Filled unto all the fullness of God.’ This is, of course, in the sphere of love. Our love as a whole will attain to His, and indeed will become like His, beyond all measure (John 17:21-23; John 17:26). Although the fullness of the experience of God’s love in all its fullness can also only mean the fullness of blessing too.


Verse 20-21

‘Now to him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all the generations of the age of the ages. Amen.’

As Paul looks back over what he has prayed he recognises the greatness of what he is asking. But he has no doubt that the Father can accomplish it, for He is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think. The power at work through Him and at work in us is insuperable and wide-reaching. And this power has been constantly emphasised (Ephesians 1:19 on; Ephesians 3:7; Ephesians 3:16). It is rooted in the resurrection. Thus he prays with confidence for the fulfilment of God’s purpose through the means he has described, the activity of the Father (14-16a), the empowering Holy Spirit (16b), the indwelling resurrected Christ (17a). It is a thrice twofold partnership between the members of the Godhead and ourselves (17a-18).

‘Exceedingly abundantly above.’ This translates the word huperekperissou. ’Ekperissou means ‘surpassingly, beyond comparison. Paul adds huper to indicate that it even surpasses what is beyond comparison.

‘To Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus.’ What must come from this work of God is great glory to Him, as the whole church are presented perfect before Him along with, and through the activity of, their Messiah Jesus, their heavenly Husband (Ephesians 5:25-27), Who has been responsible for it all. Together, as the Saviour and the saved, they will bring Him glory through the ages, indeed through all ages. The placing of Christ Jesus subsequent to the church indicates that the former are taken up into the latter as their total fulfilment.

‘In the church.’ See Ephesians 5:10. Glory will come to God from the principalities and powers in the heavenly places as they view His activity in His people and are filled with amazed wonder at what God can do.

‘To all the generations of the age of the ages.’ Well may we translate ‘for ever and ever’, for it will be so to all eternity.

‘Amen.’ So be it.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Ephesians 3:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/ephesians-3.html. 2013.


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