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Friday, June 14th, 2024
the Week of Proper 5 / Ordinary 10
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Bible Commentaries
Ephesians 3

Contending for the FaithContending for the Faith

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Verse 1

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

For this cause I Paul: Paul is alluding to a "cause" or "reason" (NIV) for what he is about to say. This reason involves all of what has been said in chapter two about the Jews and Gentiles being reconciled to God and to each other in Christ.

the prisoner of Jesus Christ: The letter to the Ephesians was written while Paul was "in chains" (6:20) in Rome (62 A.D.).

And when we entered Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who was guarding him....And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters, and was welcoming all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered (Acts 28:16; Acts 28:30-31 NASB).

By the grace of God (3:7-8), Paul is able to transform his imprisonment into something beneficial for the gospel. During this two-year period, Paul writes five epistles: Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, Philemon, and probably Hebrews. He takes note of how his confinement contains a providential blessing:

Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear (Philippians 1:12-14 NASB).

(Note also 4:1.)

Even though Paul is a prisoner, he does not call himself a prisoner of Rome. He is a "prisoner of Jesus Christ."

for you Gentiles: The situation that led to Paul’s arrest and eventual incarceration in Rome rose directly out of his ministry among the Gentiles (Acts 21:17-36).

Paul interrupts his prayer here and resumes it in verse 14.

Verse 2

If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward:

If ye have heard of the dispensation: The word "dispensation" (Strong 3622) is better translated "stewardship," indicating that a responsibility had been conferred upon Paul. Paul explains to the church of Colossae, "...I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God" (Colossians 1:25 NASB) (see also 1 Corinthians 9:17).

(This whole section follows closely the structure of Colossians 1:23-29 : Lincoln 169, Patzia 206-208.)

of the grace of God: Paul, who was given grace that he might preach grace, is assigned the responsibility of bringing to the Gentiles the encouraging message of God’s extended "grace" (note 2:7-8).

which is given me to you-ward: The major beneficiaries of Paul’s preaching are the Gentiles (Galatians 2:7-9). Paul, speaking to the Gentile church of Colossae about his responsibilities, says, "Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God" (Colossians 1:24 NASB).

Verse 3

How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words,

How that by revelation he made known unto me: The word "revelation" literally means "an uncovering" (Thayer 62, 602), indicating the disclosure of a truth before unknown. Paul understands his spiritual insight does not come through what he has been taught (human wisdom) or what he has learned through experience but from the mind of God expressed through the Holy Spirit to his own spirit (1 Corinthians 2:4-5; 1 Corinthians 2:10; 1 Corinthians 2:12-13).

For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:11-12 NASB).

the mystery: This "mystery" (Strong 3466) or secret is explained in Ephesians 3:6 and has to do with the way God has planned to save mankind.

To Gentiles, the word "mystery" often suggests "secret teachings" revealed to an initiate of a cult. The Ephesians are familiar with the word "mystery" being used this way since the disciples of the goddess Artemis, or "Diana of the Ephesians" to the Romans (Acts 19:28; Acts 19:34 KJV), claimed to possess so-called "secret teachings." Religious cults that claim to possess special, secret knowledge revealed only to new converts are historically classified as "mystery religions." "The Greeks had their Elusian and Orphic mysteries. The Persians had Mithraism, and the Egyptians the mysteries of Isis and Serapis" (Fields 80). "Mystery religions" were similar in that they claimed that only by joining them could one know the mysteries of the universe. The Christian "mystery," kept secret from before time began, has now been unveiled in Christ (3:5-6, 9). In Christianity it is the understanding of the mystery that leads one to fellowship with God, in contrast to the "once you join we will tell you the mystery" gimmick.

(as I wrote afore in few words: Some speculate that Paul may have been referring to an earlier epistle to the Ephesians of which we have no record, or possibly to the Colossian letter. Others maintain he is speaking of earlier portions of this very letter (1:9-10; 2:11-22). This latter position seems to have the most merit. One commentator suggests that Paul is noting: "as I have already briefly said" (Bratcher & Nida 70).

Verse 4

Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)

Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand: To paraphrase, Paul is saying: "I received it and wrote it; and when you read it, you will understand it." Understanding is the objective of God’s written revelation (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

my knowledge in the mystery of Christ): By revelation Paul has come to understand the nature of God’s plan of salvation. Along with this knowledge, Paul has been given the directive to spread the gospel to the Gentiles. The revealing (not the hiding) of Paul’s understanding of the mystery is in keeping with the mandate given to him. The components of the "mystery of Christ" will be revealed in Ephesians 3:6.

Verse 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;

Which in other ages: "In other ages," literally "other genera­tions," is speaking of the past, before the church was established (see Colossians 1:26).

was not made known: It was known of, but not fully known or understood. There were many prophecies made about salvation for the Gentiles (Romans 15:9-12; Isaiah 49:6 quoted in Acts 13:47), although the "how" this salvation was going to be accomplished was kept secret. "The wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory" (1 Corinthians 2:8 NASB).

unto the sons of men: "Sons of men" is a Hebraism (a figure of speech common to the Hebrew language), simply meaning "men" or mankind (see Mark 3:28). The phrase "sons of men" is found some forty-one) times in the Old Testament.

as it is now revealed: Paul, speaking of those who hold the office of apostle of Christ, says:

For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man, which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words (1 Corinthians 2:10-13 NASB).

unto his holy apostles and prophets: Previously God had allowed fragments of the mystery to be uncovered, but the mystery itself remained a secret (1 Peter 1:10-12). It was not until Christ had chosen his apostles and the church’s office of prophets was supplied (1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11) that the secret was completely revealed. Once the revelation was complete, spiritual gifts, which enabled and confirmed the revelation (Hebrews 2:3-4), ceased (1 Corinthians 13:8-12; Ephesians 4:11-13). Three examples of New Testament prophets are Agabus (Acts 11:27-28), Judas, and Silas (Acts 15:32; Acts 13:1; Acts 21:9).

by the Spirit: The Holy Spirit, not the wisdom of man, is the source of their special knowledge (John 14:26; John 15:26-27; John 16:13). It is only by this revelatory work of the Spirit that they can know and share the secret.

Verse 6

That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel:

That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs: The phrase "should be" proposes that the Gentiles now are "fellowheirs" (Strong 4789), literally meaning "co-inheriting." The Gentiles were strangers (2:12), but now, in Christ, they are "joint-heirs" (1:11, 14, 18). "Fellowheirs" depicts the Gentiles’ sharing equally with the Jews in the privileges, blessings, and heavenly hope found in Christ.

There is a word play going on here in the Greek. Three compound nouns are used to describe the new status of the Gentiles. The Greek preposition sun, meaning "together with" or "joint," is combined with heirs, body, and sharers to become "joint-heirs and a joint-body and joint-sharers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel" (Marshall 561).

and of the same body: This whole phrase is from one word translated "co-body" (Strong 4954) and is speaking of Christ’s church (1:22-23). God planned to reconcile spiritually divided mankind to God and to one another in one body (2:14-16).

and partakers of his promise: Those who had been "foreigners to the covenants of promise" (2:12) are now "partakers" of the promise in Christ. The promise God made Abram was, "in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Genesis 12:3; Genesis 22:18; Galatians 3:14 NASB). When Gentiles obeyed the gospel, they were "co-partaking" (Strong 4830) or "joint-sharers" with obedient Jews in the promise of God. "All the families of the earth" can now share in the blessing of having their sins forgiven through Christ (1:7; 5:7; Colossians 1:13-14).

The Old Testament reveals that the Gentiles would be blessed:

1. That all the families of the earth ("all" included the Gentiles) would be blessed (Genesis 12:3; Genesis 22:18; Genesis 26:4; Genesis 28:14).

2. That the Gentiles would bless God (Psalms 72:1-19; Micah 4:2).

3. That the Messiah would come to the Gentiles (Isaiah 11:10; Isaiah 49:6; Isaiah 54:1-3; Isaiah 60:1-3).

Now, all the blessings promised to the people of Israel are enjoyed by Gentiles.

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise (Galatians 3:26-29 NASB).

Proselytes or converts to the Jewish religion were never fully accepted as being on the same level as those who were fleshly descendants of Abraham. But now, in Christ, there are no restrictions based on nationality, color, gender, or social status. (Note James 2:1-9.)

The secret was not that the Gentiles might also be saved; but that God planned to save both Jews and Gentiles, without preference to the Jews, based on obedient faith (like Abraham’s, James 2:21-24). By making literal Abrahamic ancestry irrelevant to salvation, Gentiles no longer felt like tolerated, second class citizens but "joint-heirs." God created "in Christ" a spiritual Israel composed of all the saved from any nation (Galatians 6:16; Galatians 3:26-29; Romans 9:6; Philippians 3:3).

For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter...(Romans 2:28-29 NASB).

When does this "circumcision...of the heart, by the Spirit" happen?

And in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead (Colossians 2:11-12 NASB).

in Christ: Most manuscripts have "in Christ Jesus." "In Christ" is a term packed with meaning. It signifies a special relationship and union with Christ. It involves being incorporated into Christ’s church, Christ’s body (1:22-23; 1:3).

by the gospel: The preposition translated "by" (Strong 1223) here means "through" (NASB, NIV) or "by means of" the gospel (Thayer 133). Through hearing (Romans 10:17), believing (1:13; Acts 15:7), and obeying "the gospel" (2 Thessalonians 1:8; 1 Peter 4:17), they are placed "in Christ" (Romans 6:3-4; Galatians 3:26-29). The gospel cannot save unless it is believed and obeyed. Paul exclaims:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek (Romans 1:16 NASB).

"For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (1 Corinthians 1:18 NASB).

Verse 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.

Whereof I was made a minister: The word "minister" usually describes a relationship with a person or with God; however, in this passage Paul is said to be a minister to the gospel or "servant of this gospel" (NIV). A "minister" (Strong 1249) is one who fulfills the commands of another, literally one who runs errands. In this instance Paul is running errands for the gospel’s sake (1 Corinthians 9:23). (See Colossians 1:23; 2 Corinthians 3:6.)

Paul is speaking of the function of a servant in this passage, not the rank or office of a servant. "What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one" (1 Corinthians 3:5 NASB).

according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me: Normally, being a servant was not considered a "gift" by anyone’s standard. Paul, though, considers it an honor to be able to serve God in such a prominent way, in view of how he so viciously hindered the cause of Christ before his conversion (1 Timothy 1:13).

For I am the least of the apostles, who am not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me (1 Corinthians 15:9-10 NASB).

To be forgiven and accepted by the one he tried to destroy causes Paul to have a profound understanding of the teaching of grace (note next verse 3:8).

by the effectual working of his power: Paul cannot fulfill his commission by his own "power" (Strong 1411), but his ability to serve God is provided by God. He is a servant empowered by his Master to serve. "And for this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me" (Colossians 1:29 NASB). Paul repeatedly reminds those who trusted in human reasoning that his gospel is not from the wisdom or mind of man (1 Corinthians 1:17; 1 Corinthians 1:21-29; 1 Corinthians 2:4-5).

Verse 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;

This is the beginning of another extended sentence in the Greek, starting here in verse 8 and ending in verse 12.

Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints: Paul is not saying he is "less than the least" in rank to other believers (2 Corinthians 12:11); but in view of his past persecution of the church, he is unworthy of such a prestigiouis task. He is keenly aware he was not given this work as a reward for exemplary behavior (1 Corinthians 15:9; 1 Timothy 1:13-15).

is this grace given: Paul marvels continually at God’s incredible, amazing grace exercised toward him. The word "grace" here carries the idea of a God-"given" ability to do something (Thayer 666). Paul finds it remarkable that God would choose and then equip someone like him to do such a great work (see 1:7; 1 Corinthians 15:10).

that I should preach among the Gentiles: Paul’s personal obligation, given to him by the commission of Jesus, is to "preach among the Gentiles" (Acts 22:21; Acts 26:17).

the unsearchable riches of Christ: The riches "of Christ" are the abundant blessings found in Christ. The word "unsearchable" (Strong 421) literally translated speaks of something untraceable or unable to be tracked out, but its meaning in this passage is "inscrutable, incomprehensible...fathomless" (Arndt and Gingrich 65). These "riches" are not "unsearchable" because they are vague, confusing, or mysterious but because they are of such magnitude that we cannot grasp them all with our finite mind.

Jowett compared our effort to fathom the riches of God to a man starting to measure the dimensions of a lake and discovering that it is a cove on the edge of the ocean. To human reasoning the complete wealth of blessings in Christ is past finding out, both because God has not revealed it and because we are unable to comprehend it (Caldwell 118).

(See also Romans 11:33.)

Verse 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:

And to make all men see: Paul is committed not only to helping the Gentiles but "all men" see their need to know Christ. He is literally to "enlighten" (Strong 5461) all who would hear, "to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light..." (Acts 26:18 NASB). In the climax of Paul’s sermon at the Areopagus, he reveals, "...having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent" (Acts 17:30 NASB). Paul takes the message God has entrusted to him to everyone.

what is the fellowship of the mystery: The United Bible Society Greek text corrects the Greek word (Strong 2842) translated "fellowship" in the King James version to a word (Strong 3622) translated "stewardship" (1:10; 3:2), "dispensation" (ASV), or "administration" (NASB, NIV). The Revised Standard version translates this passage best with Paul’s saying his responsibility is "to make all men see what is the plan of the mystery." Weed notes the word "administration" (NASB):

...indicates the manner in which God’s redemptive purpose, designed before the creation (1:4), unfolds in history as it moves into various ages or stages of completion...all of which is now revealed in Christ (1:9, 10) and the church (3:10) (Weed 150).

God gives Paul the responsibility of sharing with all men his understanding of the previously hidden plan God had devised for man’s salvation.

The word "mystery" (Strong 3466) means a hidden secret, something concealed until it is uncovered or disclosed (see 1:9; 3:3-4, 6). The "mystery" is God’s hidden design involving how man’s salvation is to be accomplished (3:6).

which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God: Before time began, our loving God conceived, designed and concealed the plan of salvation. This concealing was not done to frustrate those who would seek the grace of God, but to ensure its success. Paul tells the Corinthians:

But we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom, which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory (1 Corinthians 2:7-8 NASB).

In his concluding remarks to the church of Rome, Paul commends them:

...to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith; to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen (Romans 16:25-27 NASB).

Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, says his responsibility is preaching the word of God:

That is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations; but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:26-27 NASB).

who created all things: "Before the foundation of the world" (1:4), God had a hidden plan to facilitate man’s salvation. God, the designer of all creation, is the architect and source of the plan of salvation. God indeed "first loved us" (1 John 4:19).

by Jesus Christ: This phrase, although inserted in the Authorized Version (King James), is not found in the best Greek texts (Metzger 603-604). Other scriptures corroborate, however, that God created all things through Christ, and for Christ (John 1:3; Hebrews 1:2; Hebrews 1:8-10; Colossians 1:16; 1 Corinthians 8:6).

Verse 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,

The New International Version best arranges the syntax of this verse in keeping with the way we currently speak: "His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms" (NIV).

To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers: The words "principalities and powers" refer to beings who inhabit the "heavenly places" or spiritual realm (1:21; Romans 8:38; Colossians 1:16; Colossians 2:15).

The fact that the church is being observed by angels is suggested in several passages:

In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents (Luke 15:10 NASB).

Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels (1 Corinthians 11:10 NASB) (see also Hebrews 1:13-14).

It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven--things into which angels long to look (1 Peter 1:12 NASB).

Why would angels "long to look" into salvation’s plan? Guy N. Woods suggests the angels’ desire "may be indicative of the fact that angels for whom no provision for salvation has been made, are outside the realm of redemption" (Woods 37). One can imagine the curiosity of the angels, concerned for their own who had sinned, wondering if there were some aspect of the scheme of redemption in which they could partake. But "...assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham" (Hebrews 2:16 NASB). How fortunate we are to be the objects of God’s unmerited love (Romans 5:8; Ephesians 2:4; Titus 3:3-7; 1 John 4:10)!

in heavenly places: "Heavenly places" are within the realm of reality, which reaches beyond that which is earthly in nature. We cannot see the angels (Colossians 1:16) that inhabit "heavenly places"; but, like Elisha’s servant (2 Kings 6:15-17), we could if God would open our eyes (Hebrews 1:14). (See note on 1:3.)

might be known by the church: The church is the means God has chosen to reveal and depict His wisdom, not only to the temporal world but to the beings who dwell in the spiritual realm. The scriptures reveal that "...the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations...has now been manifested to His saints" (Colossians 1:26 NASB). Now through the church the world and the angels can understand the previously hidden scheme of salvation. The very existence of the church is praise to God’s wisdom (Revelation 5:9-14).

The church exists to facilitate a mission. God, who does not want "any to perish" (2 Peter 3:9), has commissioned the church to carry His message of salvation to "all the nations" (Matthew 28:19 NASB). The church is accountable for making the will and wisdom of God "known" through its message and behavior. (See 3:21.)

the manifold wisdom of God: The word "manifold" (Strong 4182) carries the meaning of something "many-sided" (Arndt & Gingrich 687) or something having many facets, reflecting many colors (Thayer 529), like a diamond in the light. Every feature of the wisdom of God is magnificent. Every facet of it reflects a different aspect of the glory of God. When the intricacy and design of God’s revealed word is seen interacting with anything, it displays the spectrum of God’s boundless wisdom and invites awe-inspiring admiration.

Contextually, "wisdom" here focuses on the mystery or previously hidden plan for the salvation of man.

Verse 11

According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord:

According to the eternal purpose: This phrase, literally translated "the purpose of the ages," shows that God’s desire to save mankind through the church stretches back before creation itself (2 Timothy 1:9; Ephesians 1:4). (See notes on 3:9.)

The church existed in purpose (3:10, 11), promise (Genesis 22:18), prophecy (Isaiah 2:1-2; Daniel 2:44), preparation (Luke 16:16; Matthew 3:3), and perfection (5:26-27).

which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord: God’s eternal purpose is "carried out" in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.

Verse 12

In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him.

In whom we have boldness: Only "in Him" can we have "boldness" (Hebrews 10:19-22). The word "boldness" (Strong 3954) literally means a freedom of speech or courage to speak. Contextually we understand that because of reconciliation with God (Romans 5:11; 2 Corinthians 5:18-19) we have the boldness to speak to Him, anticipating fatherly concern and a loving response (2:18-19). This response can be anticipated only if we are humble before God (Psalms 10:17; James 4:6; James 4:10; 1 Peter 5:5). Humility is not the opposite of boldness but rather an essential ingredient of boldness. We are of lower rank and nature than God, a position hopefully generating a sense of humility. But now, "in Christ" we know personally of God’s concern for our spiritual welfare, producing boldness to come into His presence (Hebrews 4:15-16). We can speak boldly for His knowing that "if God is for us" (Romans 8:31), who can be against us?

and access: Only "in Him" is there "access" (Strong 4318) to God the Father. Jesus makes it plain He is the only way of access to the Father: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me" (John 14:6 NASB). Paul teaches that Jesus Christ is the one "through whom we have gained access (Strong 4318) by faith into this grace in which we now stand" (Romans 5:2 NIV). (See 2:18.)

with confidence: Only "in Him" can we have "confidence." The word "confidence" (Strong 4006) means "trust, confidence, and reliance" (Thayer 500) and can be coupled grammatically with "access" to mean "confident access" (NASB). Confidence is different from boldness in that confidence is the source of boldness.

by the faith of him: There is a translation problem with this phrase (Lincoln 190). The "faith of him" is objective genitive, meaning that Christ is the object of faith (Robertson 532; Boles 252). It is speaking of our faith in Christ (1:13, 15, 19; 2:8), not Christ’s faith. The meaning of the passage is captured in the New King James version: "in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him." Because of our faith in Christ, we have confidence.

This concludes another long sentence in the Greek, which began in verse 8.

Verse 13

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

Wherefore I desire that ye faint not: "Faint" here suggests one who would withdraw in battle, grow weary or lose courage, and is appropriately translated "discouraged" (NIV). This word is often translated "lose heart" (Luke 18:1; 2 Corinthians 4:1; 2 Corinthians 4:16; Galatians 6:9). Knowing that other’s adversity can sometimes discourage us, Paul encourages the Ephesian brethren not to become disheartened because of his imprisonment (3:1). He is undoubtedly aware of their concern for him (6:21-22) and of their obvious realization that they too could suffer for the name of Christ. Knowing that they may be troubled, Paul encourages them by reminding them Jesus is the only "access" to the Father and the only source of their spiritual "confidence" and "boldness" (3:12).

at my tribulations for you: At the moment Paul’s "tribulations" (Strong 2347) are a direct result of defending the Gentiles’ right to access the riches of Christ (3:1; Acts 21:17-36).

which is your glory: How can one person’s tribulation be another’s glory? The word "glory" (Strong 1391) carries the idea of a splendid condition or benefit. Paul’s essential mission to the Gentiles brought about his tribulations. If Paul had not been commissioned to bring the gospel to the Gentiles, he may not have suffered "for" them. Paul’s perseverance, therefore, was pivotal to the spiritual benefit of the Gentiles, resulting in their glorious participation in salvation. Paul does not want the Gentiles to be discouraged because of his problems, but for his difficulties to be a source of personal encouragement to them. Paul’s troubles reflect the serious importance of the message of salvation to the Gentiles. Through the message of Paul, for which he is encountering tribulation, Gentiles are being saved. Paul is willing to suffer on the Gentiles’ behalf, a fact showing why his tribulation is their glory (see also 3:1; 2 Corinthians 1:5-7).

Verse 14

For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

This is the beginning of another extended sentence in the Greek (3:14-19).

For this cause: Paul now picks up the prayer he has twice started (1:15 and 3:1). The "cause" is not Paul’s suffering but what God has accomplished through uniting both Jews and Gentiles in the body of Christ (2:11-22).

I bow my knees: Because kneeling is routinely associated with praying in the scriptures, the phrase "bow my knees" is a synonym for prayer. This kind of kneeling is probably where one would get down on his knees and elbows and place his forehead on the ground before God (Boles 255). (Examples: 1 Kings 18:42; Joshua 5:14; 2 Chronicles 20:18; Numbers 20:6; Matthew 26:39.) Historically, it was customary to reflect one’s honor of another’s rank by kneeling (Isaiah 49:23; Matthew 17:14; Mark 1:40; Philippians 2:10). This position in prayer reflects our humility before God and the honor that we ascribe to Him (Psalms 95:6; Isaiah 45:23; Daniel 6:10; Acts 7:60; Acts 9:40; Acts 20:36; Acts 21:5; Romans 14:11). Is this act of humble respect outdated today?

Kneeling is not the exclusive acceptable position for prayer. The Bible also mentions those who knelt with hands raised to God (1 Kings 8:54; 2 Chronicles 6:13; Ezra 9:5; 1 Timothy 2:8); those who stood (Mark 11:25; Matthew 6:5; Luke 18:11-13); those who bowed their heads (Genesis 24:26; Genesis 43:28; Exodus 4:31; Exodus 12:27; Exodus 34:8; Numbers 22:31; 1 Chronicles 29:20; 2 Chronicles 29:30); and those who fell on their faces before God (Matthew 26:39; Luke 17:16; Revelation 7:11).

unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: It is God the Father who is addressed in Paul’s prayer. The Lord instructs the apostles to address their prayers in this manner (John 15:16; John 16:23; John 16:26). Paul instructs the church at Colossae: "And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father" (Colossians 3:17 NASB). Remember, Jesus is our "access" to the Father (3:12) (see also Colossians 1:3; Romans 1:8; 1 Peter 2:5; Hebrews 13:15; 1 Timothy 2:5).

Verse 15

Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named,

Of whom the whole family: The word "family" here means "a race, or tribe, or family lineage going back to a common father; a father-hood" (Fields 95). All who trace the origin of their existence, men or angels, converge at God the Father.

in heaven and earth: We are all, by inception, sons of God (Luke 3:38) in that all things "visible and invisible" (Colossians 1:16-17) owe their existence to God. "For in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ’For we also are His offspring’" (Acts 17:28 NASB). Even angels "in heaven" are created beings and, therefore, called "sons of God" (Job 1:6; Job 38:7). The word "Father" in verse 14 has led to a declaration that God is the Father of all spiritual "beings, whether heavenly or earthly; there is no group of beings which does not owe its existence to Him" (Bratcher 84).

This terminology, however, does not necessarily imply fellowship with God. Even though the prodigal son was, indeed, always a son, he was not always in fellowship with his father (Luke 15:11-24). Even though everything that exists owes its existence to God, some have rebelled against their creator. Figuratively, Jesus says some are sons "of your father the devil" (John 8:39-42; John 8:44; 1 John 3:10) because they share some of the devil’s evil charac­teristics. They are not in any way literally sons of the devil.

is named: We usually name families after the father, indicating the identity of the progenitor of the family. We are identified as "sons of God," for God "the Father" is the source of our existence (Acts 17:28). (See Romans 9:26.)

Once again Paul mentions the Fatherhood of God (see notes 1:3) and alludes to the subjection and honor (3:14) that should be given Him because of this relationship.

Verse 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;

That he would grant you: Paul is praying that God would give them spiritual strength.

according to the riches of his glory: God has an abundant supply from which to draw His blessings (1:18; Romans 9:23; Philippians 4:19; Colossians 1:27).

to be strengthened with might: Paul’s first request is that these brethren might be "mightily strengthened" in their spirit.

by his Spirit in the inner man: The term "inner man" identifies our unseen soul or spiritual nature, that which comprises our eternal identity (Matthew 10:28). "Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day" (2 Corinthians 4:16 NASB). It is the spiritual part of our nature that experiences spiritual life, weakness, and death in our relationship with God.

The Holy Spirit strengthens our "inner man" through the revealed word of God (1 Timothy 4:6). The scriptures are a product of the Holy Spirit’s work (2 Peter 1:3), and, therefore, their effect in our life can be described as a work of the Spirit.

Spiritual strength is the result of being spiritually energized by the word of God. Just as temporal food supplies strength for our physical body, the scriptures are designed to nourish our spiritual life (1 Peter 12:2; 1 Timothy 4:6). The Colossians are told to "be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding..." so that they could:

...walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience (Colossians 1:9-10 NASB).

Verse 17

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

That Christ may dwell in your hearts: The second thing Paul prays is that they give Christ their heart as a place to dwell. The heart is not a specific location where Christ can be found "indwelling," but a place where the mind of Christ is abundantly apparent. This phrase metaphorically shows the close association, fusing, or union of mind that we are to have with our Master. We must allow Christ to reside or "dwell" in our heart, mind, and thoughts. Paul labored with the Galatians until Christ was "formed in" them (Galatians 4:19 NASB). Christ is formed in us and dwells in us when our lives promote and give evidence of the mind of Christ within us (Colossians 1:27; John 14:23; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Revelation 3:20).

by faith: Our faith and trust enable us to give Christ our hearts and lives in which to live. Faith is having confidence that something not seen is very real (Hebrews 11:1). Our faith is built upon the testimony of the word of God (Romans 10:17; Acts 15:7; John 17:20). Because of the credibility of the Bible in things that can be tested, we believe in the things that cannot be tested (Romans 1:17). "Should a person cease to have faith, he ceases to have a place within himself where Christ can dwell" (Boles 257).

that ye, being rooted and grounded in love: The term "rooted and grounded" implies we are to be strong and stable in our love. Jesus taught, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another (John 13:34 NASB).

Verse 18

May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height;

May be able to comprehend: From the vantage point of being able to love (3:17), we can take a vast view of the love of Christ. A prerequisite to being "able to comprehend" the love of Christ, is our being able to love (1 John 4:20). In scripture the word "comprehend" (Strong 2638) literally means "to lay hold of" (Vine 62), apprehend, or grasp knowledge. To be able to understand and apply the knowledge we have is the essence of learning and wisdom. Comprehension is the ability to grasp the meaning and significance of something. "To comprehend," then, is to take information and knowledge and process it until it becomes understanding. Contextually, the concept Paul is praying that the Gentile Christians ("ye" 3:17) would grasp is the depth of the love of Christ (3:19).

with all saints: "All saints" are all Christians, Jew or Gentile, for those in Christ have been separated from their sins (see 1:1). Paul’s prayer is that the Gentile Christians (3:17), together with all the saints, would be able to appreciate the love of Christ.

what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height: We use the terms "height, length, and width" to describe objects in the temporal three dimensional world we live in. But the terms used here describe the unlimited expanse and dimensions of reality (see Proverbs 25:3; Romans 8:39). Paul is praying that Christians might understand the measureless scope of Christ’s love. This phrase is connected with the idea of "fullness" in the next verse.

Verse 19

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

And to know the love of Christ: The conceptual knowledge of verse 18 is now expanded to include experiential knowledge. This kind of love is not defined with inadequate words but with deeds (1 John 3:18), acts that call for insight and appreciation (Romans 5:8). "We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us..." (1 John 3:16 NASB). To "know" (Strong 1097) or experience this kind of love, one must personally get his heart as well as his head involved in the understanding. (See Philippians 2:2-5.)

which passeth knowledge: The love of Christ is too great to be understood fully. Paul (thirdly) prays that they might appreciate a love vastly larger than their ability to understand through a sample of it in Christ.

It must be noted that here, as in the parallel book of Colossians (see Introduction), some of the doctrines of the Gnostics are being addressed and dismissed. Paul warns the Gnostic, whose belief system worshiped knowledge, that knowledge is not the epitome of spiritual maturity; love is (1 Corinthians 8:1-3; 1 Corinthians 13:1-3). This teaching does not make knowledge unimportant, for growing in knowledge is commanded (2 Peter 3:18). Love, however, is superior to facts in leading one to a deeper, more intimate understanding of God’s character. This love surpasses knowledge.

that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God: The fourth thing that Paul prays is that they may mature to the point they are full of the mature character of God. This teaching is similar to the exhortation of Jesus:

You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect [that is, grow into complete maturity of godliness in mind and character, having reached the proper height of virtue and integrity] (Matthew 5:48 AMP). (Note the definition of "perfect," Thayer 618.)

The words "fullness" and "mature" are analogous in Ephesians 4:13 :

...until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ (NASB).

To be filled with God we must empty self. Paul says it this way:

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me (Galatians 2:20 NASB).

By placing God’s will in the place formerly occupied by our will, by always asking "what would Jesus do" before making any decisions, by examining our attitudes with the heart of Jesus before we express ourselves, we begin to be "transformed by the renewing of" our mind (Romans 12:2 NASB).

But thanks be to God, who leads us in His triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing (2 Corinthians 2:14-15 NASB).

When our lives become "filled with the fullness of God," then we will be "a fragrance of Christ." [Note: The phrase "filled with...God" is similar to the phrase "filled with the Spirit" (5:18)]. This verse concludes an extended sentence in the Greek, which began with verse 14.

Verse 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,

At the conclusion of the above prayer (3:16-19), Paul gives a profound reason for the reader to trust in God’s ability to answer the prayer.

Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think: This middle phrase is literally translated, "beyond all things to do superabundantly" (Marshall 562). God is able to do things that exceed beyond what our limited mind can even conceive or imagine. There is no limit to the power and ability of God. He is omnipotent.

There is a progression of thought here:

Something of the force of the writer’s rhetoric can be captured by showing the build-up of the thought reflected by his language. God is said to be able to do what believers ask in prayer; he is able to do what they might fail to ask but what they can think; he is able to do all...they ask or think; he able to do above all...they ask or think; he is able to do abundantly above all...they ask or think; he is able to do more abundantly above all...they ask or think; he is able to do infinitely more abundantly above all...they ask or think (Lincoln 216).

God "is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine" (NIV).

If God’s answer to a prayer is "no" or "not now," it is not that He is unable to do a thing but that His wisdom for us is not in accord with our request at the time. We need to trust that God loves us and has our interest at heart (Matthew 7:11). We also need to acknowledge that God’s wisdom and perspective is infinitely better than ours and always pray "thy will be done" (Matthew 26:42; 1 John 5:14).

according to the power that worketh in us: What God is able to do will be accomplished "according to the power that works within us" (NASB). This "power" is the force or energy of the Spirit discharged in keeping with what has been promised to us in the revealed word. God’s power is expressed toward us when He answers prayer (3:16-19), when His promises are invoked (John 8:31-32), and when He providentially intervenes (James 1:5).

This power is already at work within us (3:16). Its effect upon us is determined by the extent to which we yield or resist what the Spirit has said to us.

Paul is not here speaking personally of himself ("me," 3:7; Colossians 1:29) or of those who hold the office of apostle, but of "us," that is the church (1:19). Paul prayed earlier that believers would gain an understanding of "the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe" (1:19). God is able!

Verse 21

Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.

Unto him be glory: May all glory, praise and honor be assigned to God the Father for all He has done (Psalms 98:1; Isaiah 12:5). The Greek word "doxa" (Strong 1391), translated "glory," is where we get the word "doxology," meaning "words of glory." There are many examples in the scriptures of "words of glory" directed to God (Romans 11:33-36; Romans 16:25-27; 1 Timothy 1:17; Judges 1:24-25; Galatians 1:5; Philippians 4:20; 1 Peter 4:11; Revelation 1:6; Revelation 5:13).

in the church: If "the heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands," (Psalms 19:1 NIV) how much more so the church, which is His "masterpiece of grace" (Bruce 331)? "The earth and its works will be burned up" (2 Peter 3:10) but the glory the church extends to God will go on forever (see below; 2 Peter 1:11). God is glorified in His people (5:27; Philippians 1:11; 2 Thessalonians 1:12); they are His heritage (see notes 1:11). The glory of the church is not limited to the temporal realm but extends throughout the "heavenly places" throughout all time (see below; Luke 1:33; Daniel 2:44).

The phrase "in the church" here is speaking of God’s receiving glory not through the worship of the local church (although He does), but in the very existence of the universal church, the whole body of Christ (1:22-23; Revelation 5:8-14). It is through the church that the knowledge of God’s purpose in Christ is made known to all of God’s creation (3:10).

by Christ Jesus: Literally the Greek reads "in" Christ Jesus (Marshall 562).

The source of the glorification of God, the sphere from which it comes, is Christ and His church. If "in" is meant by Paul to convey the source from which the glorifying comes, then he is saying that both Christ who has been exalted himself by God, and the church give the praise to God. If "in" is locative expressing the location from which the praise comes as a sphere, then Christ (the head) and the church (the body) are intended to express one source rather than two. Either idea fits other Scripture depending on one’s viewpoint (Caldwell 150).

Another way of conveying this thought might be God receives "glory in the church, through our union with Christ Jesus" (Translator’s New Testament).

throughout all ages: Literally translated this phrase reads, "unto all the generations" (Marshall 562), meaning "throughout all time." A psalm of the Messiah announces, "I will cause Thy name to be remembered in all generations; therefore the peoples will give Thee thanks forever and ever" (Psalms 45:17 NASB).

world without end: Literally translated "age of the ages," this phrase means "forever and ever." Putting these two Greek phrases together, we understand that glory will be given to God throughout all generations of the world’s existence; and then, when time ends, it will continue throughout all eternity.

Amen: The word "Amen" (Strong 281) is of Hebrew origin (Nehemiah 5:13; Nehemiah 8:6), meaning "so be it" or "may it be fulfilled" (Thayer 32). Historically when someone would read a passage of scripture, finish a sermon, or offer a prayer, others would respond by saying "Amen" and in this way show their agreement with what had been said (1 Corinthians 14:16).

It is appropriate for Paul’s prayer and the first section of this letter to end with "Amen."

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Ephesians 3". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/ephesians-3.html. 1993-2022.
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