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Bible Commentaries

Henry Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament
Ephesians 3

 

 

Verses 1-8

The mystery of Christ revealed

Ephesians 3:1-8

Ephesians 3:1. This epistle was written when Paul was a prisoner in Rome. He called himself ‘the prisoner of Jesus Christ’ because he was in prison for preaching Christ and his gospel. The only crime of which he was guilty was preaching the gospel of Christ and that to the Gentiles. He taught them that circumcision and the rest of the ceremonies of the law were not binding on them, that Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to all who believe. This stirred up the Jews against him and led to his imprisonment. ‘Therefore I am a prisoner for the sake of you Gentiles.’ Another thought to comfort is that the forces of evil only have power over God's people as the Lord permits them (and it always works for our good and his glory) (Genesis 50:19-20; Romans 8:28).

Ephesians 3:2. The word ‘dispensation’ is stewardship or administration. The apostle Paul acted by divine authority. He was a steward or appointed ambassador of the mysteries of God to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15; Acts 22:14-15).

Ephesians 3:3-4. The gospel of Christ is often called a ‘mystery’ (Ephesians 1:9; Ephesians 5:32; Ephesians 6:19; Colossians 1:25-27). The Trinity, the union of two natures in Christ, the whole doctrine of salvation by grace, the union of Christ and the believer are all mysteries which the natural man does not know, understand, nor love. They must be revealed by God's spirit, even to Paul (1 Corinthians 2:7-11; Galatians 1:11-12).

Ephesians 3:5. The mystery of Christ (his incarnation, imputed righteousness, sacrifice, resurrection and intercession) certainly was not known nor understood by men in general; nor was it revealed to the prophets and men of God in the Old Testament as clearly and as plainly as it is now revealed to the apostles and to us. Some hints were given to Adam; and the gospel was preached to and by Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and Isaiah; but it lay hidden for the most part in types, shadows and prophecies. One thing we know – whatever they understood about his person and work, it was not to the extent that we know and understand by his spirit (Luke 24:44-47).

Ephesians 3:6. This was especially not understood by the Old Testament prophets: that the Gentiles should be heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ right along with the Jews – that the Gentiles should be one with them in the same body, under one and the same Head (Jesus Christ), partakers of the same grace, and enjoy the same privileges in Christ. Even the apostles had difficulty with this mystery (Galatians 2:11-16).

Ephesians 3:7. He is a true minister of the gospel who is made a minister (not by men, but by God), called of God to the work of the ministry and given the gifts and grace which are required to fulfill his responsibility. The true minister can use natural capacity, education and acquired learning; but the gift of interpreting the Scriptures, presenting the gospel of free grace, leading men in the true worship of God, and taking oversight of the church is a distinct thing from natural ability, human learning, or even internal grace; it is given by the effectual working of God's power.

Ephesians 3:8. ‘This grace to know Christ, to understand the mysteries of redemption in Christ and to preach Christ is given to me. I am unworthy of this high honour, for I am less than the least of all the saints, the chief of sinners.’ The greatest saints are generally the most humble. They have the lowest thoughts of their works and are the greatest admirers of the grace of God. The reason for their humility is an awareness of their sinful natures and a discovery of the love and grace of God to them in Christ Jesus. Their subject is now and will always be the ‘unsearchable riches of Christ’ (Romans 12:3-5).


Verses 8-21

Holy treasure in earthen vessels

Ephesians 3:8-21

The apostle Paul was a very humble man. The choice servants of God are, generally speaking, the most humble. The reasons for their humility are that they are most aware of their own sinfulness, they have greater discoveries of God's love and grace in Christ and, being more sorely tried, they lean more completely on the arm of grace.

Ephesians 3:8. Paul saw great grace in being trusted with the ministry of the gospel and having such treasure put in an earthen vessel. He was appointed to take the gospel of Christ to the Gentiles.

Ephesians 3:9. The mystery mentioned in this verse is the gospel of Christ (Mark 4:11; 1 Corinthians 2:7-8). Natural men do not understand the gospel of substitution, do not see the wisdom of the cross and therefore must be born again, regenerated and taught of God (John 3:3; John 6:44-45). The ministry of the word is the means God uses to enlighten men (Romans 10:13-15). The gospel was there from the beginning in the counsel and covenant of God; for he created all things in, by and for Christ (Colossians 1:14-17); but it was hidden in some measure from the elect angels, from even the Old Testament saints and altogether from natural men.

Ephesians 3:10. The purpose is that through and by the church of the Lord Jesus Christ the complex, many-sided wisdom of God in justifying the ungodly by Christ Jesus might be made known to the angels and powers even in heaven (l Peter l:12). The angels are witnesses of God's mercy to the church in Christ (Hebrews 1:14).

Ephesians 3:11. All of the salvation of sinners in Christ (which displays the wisdom and mercy of God) is according to his own eternal purpose, which he purposed in Christ before the world began. Christ the Redeemer and the time of his incarnation, sufferings and resurrection were all decreed by God (Acts 4:26-28). The persons for whom he became incarnate, suffered and died were chosen in him (Ephesians 1:3-5).

Ephesians 3:12. Therefore, because we are redeemed by Christ, our Representative (Romans 5:19; 1 Corinthians 15:21-22) and Substitute, and God has enabled us to believe on Christ (who is the object of saving faith), we have boldness to enter into the very presence of God with courage and confidence (Hebrews 10:19-22).

Ephesians 3:13. ‘So I ask you not to be discouraged because of the trials and troubles I have gone through to preach the gospel to you. I am not ashamed to be identified with Christ in reproach (Hebrews 13:13) and hatred (John 15:18-19). It is an honour to be counted worthy to suffer with him (Hebrews 11:24-26; 2 Corinthians 1:6).

Ephesians 3:14. ‘For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father.’ The awesome responsibility of ministering the gospel, the privilege of access to the throne of grace and the perseverance of the believers in Ephesus led Paul to pray for them (2 Corinthians 2:14-16; 2 Corinthians 3:5).

Ephesians 3:15. He is the Father of all believers, all the elect in heaven and earth (John 1:12; John 20:17).

Ephesians 3:16-19. This is the prayer Paul prayed for them:

1. That God would strengthen them so that they would not faint under trial. That the Holy Spirit would strengthen their spirits, their hearts and their inner selves with fresh supplies of grace. Strength to live for God's glory is from within (John 7:37-39).

2. This is the true source of all spiritual life, the key to union with the Father, the fountainhead of all blessings and the hope of eternal life – ‘Christ in you’ (Galatians 4:19; Colossians 1:27). That they might be rooted and grounded deep in love for Christ. This is our security – his love for us and our love for him.

3. That they might be able, with all believers, to have a greater understanding of the great love of God for us – what is the breadth, the length, the height and the depth of his love (Romans 5:8).

4. That they might understand more of the special and peculiar love of Christ for his church, which is beyond perfect knowledge (his engaging to be Surety for them, his assumption of their nature, his payment for their debts, his giving them a perfect righteousness, his intercession, his constant supply of mercy and grace). We have some knowledge of it, but the more of it we know, the more we will be filled and flooded with Christ himself.

Ephesians 3:20-21. The prayer closes with a celebration of the perfection, power and glory of God. God begins, carries on and finishes the work he purposed to do for his people. This work of eternal redemption will be infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, hopes, or dreams.

 


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Bibliography Information
Mahan, Henry. "Commentary on Ephesians 3:4". Henry Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/hms/ephesians-3.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, November 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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