THE MYSTERY OF CHRIST REVEALED
"For this cause" -- because of the marvelous greatness of the work God had accomplished for and in His saints -- Paul preached "the unsearchable riches of Christ" (v.8). He was the prisoner, not of Rome, but of Jesus Christ. Men sought to confine him and his ministry, but the Lord Jesus used even his imprisonment for good . Thus he was a prisoner "for you Gentiles," for it was Jewish antagonism against his going to the Gentiles that led to his imprisonment.
"The dispensation of the grace of God" (v.2) is God's special way of dealing with mankind at the present time. It is in contrast to the administration of law in the Old Testament. It began with the Lord Jesus manifested among men, He whose blessed death and resurrection gives the purest, fullest character to the abounding grace of God. This dispensation has lasted almost 2000 years, and will continue until the coming of the Lord Jesus for His Church at the Rapture. No other dispensation has lasted this long, and even the Millennium will be only 1000 years. The truth of this dispensation was given to the Apostle Paul particularly for Gentiles (Ephesians 3:1-11), though Jews are not excluded for Paul himself was a Jew.
God made known the mystery of this dispensation by special revelation to Paul. His knowledge then was not from keen human discernment but directly as a result of a revelation from God. Verse 5 shows why the Church dispensation was called a mystery. In earlier ages this truth concerning the Church was not revealed. Therefore it was a mystery, not Mystical but unknown in Old Testament times. In the Old Testament there were various types (or pictures) of the Church as the bride of Christ or as the building of God or as the priestly company, and others too, although not at that time understood as pictures of the Church. However, not one type of the truth of the one body is seen in the Old Testament. Jews and Gentiles are always separated there as distinct groups. Only now is it revealed that "in Christ" the Gentiles are fellowheirs and of the same body as Jewish believers and fellow-partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel. Such unity of Jews and Gentiles is totally new, and when revealed it was strongly resisted by the Jews who had zealously maintained a strong line of demarcation between themselves and Gentile "dogs" as they were considered.
How appropriate it is that the chief messenger of this was himself Jewish, one who had to be laid hold of by God in a compelling way. Paul is emphatically "minister" (not simply a minister) of these great truths (Colossians 1:24-25. JND), not by natural ability, but by the gift of the grace of God. This gift required the effective working of God's power, the same power spoken of in chapter 1:19 in connection with the resurrection of Christ.
Paul insists that God's choice of him was not because of his worth but because of his insignificance, so that attention should not be drawn to the vessel but to the unsearchable riches of Christ (v.8). He never forgot that the pure grace of God had lifted him out of a proud, rebellious state (1 Timothy 1:12-14) to use him to proclaim such -- riches of grace among the Gentiles.
Paul's object in preaching was to enlighten everyone as to these truths which had been in the past "hidden in God" (v.9). It was not even hidden in scripture, but totally unrevealed. Such a matter is worthy of the supreme majesty of Him who created all things by Jesus Christ. God reserved such a revelation until Christ came, suffered and died, was raised and returned to heaven. Only in this way could a Man in glory be Head of His body, the Church, and then use a weak, dependent vessel to declare this mystery, the more effectively to magnify the great glory of the revelation.
Verse 10 shows an even higher object than that of enlightening people, for "principalities and powers in heavenly places" -- angelic beings -- are seen to be vitally interested in this unique dispensation of God. In the Assembly they observe the all-various wisdom of God, wisdom infinitely higher than could have been imagined by any creature. For in the Church they see unity established by God among a redeemed people, comparatively small in number and scattered throughout all nations. National, racial, social and cultural barriers have all been done away between them, though these exist as positively as ever in their respective nations. So the Church (the Assembly) is a unique people gathered out of all nations and made one in Christ Jesus. Marvelous triumph of the wisdom, grace and power of God!
This Assembly was not a thought conceived by God after nations appeared on earth. It was in God's eternal purpose, purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord from eternity past (v.11). Just as individuals in the Assembly where chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world (ch.1:4), so the Assembly itself was in the purposes of God from eternity. This to us is totally inconceivable, but faith gladly accepts it and adores Him. Further, it encourages the confidence of bold, unquestioning faith to enter into the blessedness of all this revelation. Though it is marvelously wonderful, yet it is to be understood, valued and enjoyed by every Christian.
In comparison to the wonder and greatness of such a revelation, Paul considered his many tribulations as nothing. The Ephesians were not to be discouraged because he was in prison for their sake, because thus he could declare such riches to the Gentiles. Rather they were to glory in the fact that such suffering was well worthwhile when borne for so glorious a cause.
PRAYER TO THE FATHER
"For this reason" (v.14) involves both the marvel of the revelation given to Paul and his willing suffering for it. These two things move him to bow his knees in intercessory prayer for the Ephesians and by implication for all the saints of God. In contrast to chapter 1:17, this prayer is addressed to "the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" rather than to "the God of our Lord Jesus Christ." Christ is therefore seen here as the Son of the Father, His deity emphasized rather than His humanity. Also, the prayer is not for their knowledge (as in chapter 1), but for the proper spiritual state of their souls.
Verse 15 is rightly "every family" (JND), for in the wise counsels of God the Father, there are various families in which this grace will be displayed in the millennial age. In heaven will be the bride (the Church) as well as Old Testament saints and also the martyrs from the tribulation (Revelation 20:4). On earth will be Israel in a distinct place of glory and believing Gentile nations who have come out of the Great tribulation and are given earthly blessing in the Millennium (Revelation 7:9-17). All these are distinct families of God, with which God has had, or will have, special dealings.
If we have known "the riches of His glory" then this is to have some present real effect, for it is according to these riches that Paul entreats the Father to strengthen His saints with might through His Spirit in the inner man (v.16). Proper objects have wonderful effects on our innermost being. This mighlt is living, spiritual strength, miraculously higher than what appears to be strength in mere human estimation.
In 2 Corinthians 13:5 it is plain that Christ is in all believers, but here in Ephesians 3:17 it is the practical experiencing of this for which the apostle prays - the precious sense of His abiding presence in each believer.
We are not to be rooted and grounded simply in knowledge, but in love, that principle of genuine concern for the blessing of its objects. Love is not to be simply a surface matter, but with roots reaching into the inmost being. "Grounded" would infer that love is solidly based on what does not give way -- the truth of God's Word.
In verse 18, to comprehend or apprehend is not merely to know about something, but to apply it in experience to the heart. Although the apostle speaks of love in verse 17, verse 18 is not confined to love, but embraces all the counsels of God in which His great love is manifested. Therefore, to apprehend the width is to take in, in some measure, the truth of God that is infinite, unlimited in its scope. More than this, the length of God's revelation is eternal, a matter too that staggers our imagination. The depth also is greater than we can imagine, for this is measured only by the depths of the suffering and anguish the Lord Jesus endured on the cross, therefore immeasurable so far as we are concerned. The height of such a revelation is seen in the present exaltation of the Lord Jesus above all heavens and in the blessing with which He has blessed His saints in Himself, so great as to be unsearchable.
Yet in all these things we are privileged to know the love of Christ, not merely intellectually, but in living power and reality. One may breathe deeply of the pure atmosphere of fresh mountain air, yet that breath is immeasurably short of using all the air available. One may drink deeply of a never failing fountain, its supply immeasurably beyond the capacity of the drinker. How precious indeed in such a way to "be filled with all the fullness of God!" (v.19). Whatever our capacity, we have no right- reason not to be filled at all times. Let us make a habit of daily living in this refreshing atmosphere.
In such experiences of the fullness of God we shall learn God's great ability to more than meet every need. He not only gives as we ask or think, but above all of this, and greater still, "abundantly above all, and yet greater, "exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think" (v.20). Nor is He speaking only of power that works for us, but power which works in us. This power is certainly to be realized and enjoyed in present experience, though the full blessedness of it will require eternity for its display.
This display of glory will be seen in the Assembly collectively, not only in the millennial age when all things are first gathered under the Headship of Christ, but "to all generations forever and ever" (v.21). For Paul is speaking here of that which is based on the very nature of God and therefore eternal, rather than of God's dispensational, administrative counsels. "Forever and ever" may be translated, "to the age of ages." That eternal age outlasts all passing ages.
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Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Ephesians 3". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany