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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Beet's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament
Ephesians 3

 

 

Verses 1-13

SECTION 7. — THE GOSPEL OF PEACE BETWEEN JEWS AND GENTILES HAS BEEN COMMITTED TO PAUL. CH. 3:1-13.

For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you the Gentiles- if, at least, ye have heard the stewardship of the grace of God given to me for you, that by way of revelation was made known to me the mystery, according as I wrote before in short space, whereby ye can, as ye read, perceive my understanding in the mystery of Christ; which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as now it has been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit: that the Gentiles are fellow-heirs and fellow-members of the body and fellow-partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel, of which I was made a minister according to the gift of the grace of God, the grace given to me according to the working of His power. To me, the less than least of all saints, was this grace given, to announce to the Gentiles as good news the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to enlighten all what is the stewardship of the mystery hidden from the ages, in God who created all things, in order that there may be made known now to the principalities and the authorities in the heavenly places through the Church the manifold wisdom of God, according to a purpose of the ages which He made in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in Him. For which cause I ask that ye faint not at my tribulations on your behalf which is your glory.

Ephesians 3:1. For this cause: because, on the foundation laid by the Apostles, Paul’s readers had been built into the rising walls of the temple of God. Same words in Ephesians 3:14; Titus 1:5; not elsewhere in the N.T. As in Ephesians 1:15, so now, a recital of blessings already given moves Paul to pray for more.

I Paul: as in Colossians 1:23.

Prisoner of Christ Jesus: as in Philemon 1:1; Philemon 1:9. The definite article suggests that he looked upon his imprisonment as placing him in a unique position among the servants of Christ. And this is easily explained. He was a prisoner… on behalf of the Gentiles: for his loyalty to their spiritual rights as fellow-heirs of the Kingdom of God had aroused the hostility of the Jews and thus brought about, after many earlier troubles, his arrest at Jerusalem. He had pursued his path in full view of the peril to which it exposed him, knowing that this loyalty was demanded by the highest interests both of Jews and Gentiles. Same thought in Ephesians 3:13, afflictions on your behalf, and in Colossians 1:24, where see note.

At this point the grammatical construction is broken off, as in Ephesians 2:1, by a long parenthesis explaining these last words by an account of the Gospel committed to Paul. The close of the parenthesis is marked by a return in Ephesians 3:13 to the thought now before us; and by a repetition in Ephesians 3:14 of the first words of Ephesians 3:1, for which cause. But, instead of completing the broken-off sentence, Paul begins in Ephesians 3:14 as in Ephesians 2:5 a new sentence.

Ephesians 3:2. In Ephesians 3:2-12 Paul expounds at length the relation implied in Ephesians 3:1, on your behalf.

If at least: not suggesting uncertainty, but asserting that if, as is the fact, the readers have heard about Paul’s commission, they cannot doubt that his imprisonment is on their behalf.

Have-heard: either from Paul’s lips when at Ephesus or by report from others.

The grace given to me: the undeserved favour with which God had smiled on Paul; as in Romans 12:3; Romans 12:6; Romans 15:15; 1 Corinthians 3:10. Cp. 1 Corinthians 15:10. This favour prompted Christ’s appearance to Paul and the commission then given to him. And Paul never forgot the responsibility to God and to the Gentiles thus laid upon him. The spiritual wealth thus entrusted to him for their good was a stewardship of the grace of God… for you. Similar thought in Colossians 1:25. But here stress is laid upon the undeserved favour to Paul involved in his commission to the Gentiles. So are all tasks given by God to man marks of His favour. For they bring great reward. This sense of responsibility finds expression in Galatians 1:16; Acts 26:16-18.

Ephesians 3:3. Further account of the stewardship committed to Paul. The mystery made known (as in Ephesians 1:9) to Paul was spiritual wealth entrusted to him for distribution to others. It was therefore a stewardship.

By way of revelation: mode in which it was made known to Paul, viz. by spiritual enlightenment. See under Romans 1:17. Mystery and revelation are constant correlatives: Romans 16:25; 1 Corinthians 2:7; 1 Corinthians 2:10. For the secrets of God are known only by those for whom God lifts the veil which hides them from unaided human vision.

I have before written: apparently in this Epistle. For Ephesians 3:6 which gives the contents of this mystery is a summing up of Ephesians 2:13-22. Moreover, the present tense, reading, in Ephesians 3:4 suggests that Paul refers to something new. To the same teaching refer also the similar words in Ephesians 1:9, having made known the mystery. For the union of Jews and Gentiles is part of God’s larger purpose (Ephesians 3:10) to unite in Christ the whole universe.

In short space: viz. in Ephesians 2:13-22, words very few for the truths so great, and to Jews so astounding, therein set forth.

Ephesians 3:4. Whereby: more accurately, to which referring as a standard of comparison.

Understanding: ability to interpret the significance of things observed: see under Colossians 1:9.

The mystery of Christ: expounded in Colossians 1:27. The presence of Christ in His people, as a pledge of the splendour awaiting them, is a secret known only to those specially taught by God. This secret, which is the matter understood, is here represented as the surrounding element of the spiritual insight which Paul’s readers would recognise in his teaching about the union in Christ of Jews and Gentiles.

Ephesians 3:5. Generations: the successive courses of men living at one time. So Philippians 2:15; Colossians 1:26.

Other: more correctly different. It calls attention to the different and less favoured position of those who lived before the Gospel age. The words are here a note of time.

The sons of men: men looked upon in the light of their human origin: so Genesis 11:5; Psalms 8:4; Psalms 11:4. ‘While the successive generations of the past, so different in their lower privileges from the men of Paul’s day, followed each other from the cradle to the grave, the great secret now revealed was not made known to the offspring of human parents.’

Revealed; takes up made known by way of revelation in Ephesians 3:3, and asserts that others shared with Paul the truth supernaturally communicated to him.

Apostles and prophets: as in Ephesians 2:20. These were holy because in virtue of their office they stood in special relation to God. Cp. Luke 1:70.

In the Spirit: same words and sense as in Ephesians 2:22. Close parallel in Matthew 22:43 : for David was (Acts 2:30) a prophet. Both Apostles and Prophets were specially inspired by the Holy Spirit, who made known to them truths till then not known to men. They held respectively (Ephesians 4:11; 1 Corinthians 12:28) the first and second ranks in the universal Church; differing in the supreme authority exercised by the Apostles.

Ephesians 3:6. Statement of the mystery now revealed.

That the Gentiles are etc.: objectively in Christ, subjectively through each one’s faith.

Fellow-heirs: same word and sense in Romans 8:17; Hebrews 11:9; 1 Peter 3:7. To Gentiles, as to Jews, belongs, in virtue of their filial relation to God, the wealth of heaven.

Fellow-members-of-the-body: a word not found elsewhere and probably coined by Paul. It presents the union of Jews and Gentiles under Paul’s favourite metaphor of the Body of Christ.

Fellow-partakers: same word in Ephesians 5:7. These three words, beginning with the same syllable, proclaim very clearly the equal rights of Jews and Gentiles.

The promise: as in Ephesians 2:12. It was designed for, and will be fulfilled in, Jews and Gentiles alike; and therefore belongs to both.

In Christ Jesus: as in Ephesians 2:13, which is explained in Ephesians 2:14-15. The above was God’s purpose from eternity: Ephesians 1:4. Therefore in His eternal purpose, which is more real than any creature, already Jews and Gentiles are, in virtue of their relation to Christ, sharers of the one inheritance, members of the one body, and sharers of the one promise.

Through the Gospel: means by which this objective right is subjectively and personally appropriated, and this purpose of eternity accomplished in time. As Abraham, in the day when he believed the promise, stood before God as already father of many nations, so before time began the believing Gentiles stood before God, as, by means of the good news announced by Christ and His servants, sharers with the believing Israelites of the blessings promised to Abraham.

The union of Jews and Gentiles in the one Church may seem to some unworthy to be called the mystery of Christ. But this union is a logical result of the central doctrine of the Gospel, viz. that God accepts into His favour all who believe. Consequently, in the extension to the Gentiles of the rights of the New Covenant, was involved the essence of the Gospel. Hence the strong language of Galatians 5:2; Galatians 4:10-11. Moreover, to Paul, a zealous Jew, it was the most conspicuous feature of the Gospel, and at one time the most serious objection to it. And, in all ages, the universality of the Gospel, embracing on the same terms men of all kinds, is one of the clearest proofs that it comes from the common Parent of all. This universal destiny of the Kingdom of God was in great part veiled under the Old Covenant. But to Paul and his colleagues, through the agency of the Holy Spirit, it had been revealed. A remembrance of these long ages of silence, of his superior privilege, and of the special honour put upon him as an Apostle filled him with wonder and gratitude. See further in Ephesians 3:8-11.

This verse is another plain note of genuineness. For it gives to the union of Jews and Gentiles an importance in complete harmony with Paul’s position, history, and mode of thought; but inconceivable in the second century, when the Gentiles had obtained a secure and predominant position in the Church.

Ephesians 3:7. Of which I became a minister: as in Colossians 1:23; stating in each case Paul’s relation to a foregoing general statement.

According to the gift etc.: close parallel to Colossians 1:25. The appointment of Paul as a minister of the Gospel is traced to its source in the favour with which God smiled on him. And this grace was in harmony with the working or activity of His power. Otherwise the grace would have been ineffective. As in Galatians 2:8-9, Paul felt that in his labours the might of God was at work.

Ephesians 3:8-12. A new sentence, reasserting and amplifying the statements in Ephesians 3:2-7.

The less-than-least: a combination, not found elsewhere, of superlative and comparative: close parallels in 1 Corinthians 15:9; 1 Timothy 1:13. These two passages explain Paul’s self-depreciation here and they reveal his profound sense of the awful sin of lifting a hand against the Church of God. Not merely below the Apostles, as in 1 Corinthians 15:9, but far below all saints, i.e. Christians, Paul places himself.

Was given etc.: a remarkable re-echo of Ephesians 3:2; Ephesians 3:7, revealing Paul’s deep sense of the undeserved favour of God which committed to him so glorious a commission. This grace is further expounded by the words to announce to the Gentiles as good tidings etc.

Unsearchable: whose footsteps cannot be traced. So in Romans 11:33. The riches of Christ extend, in their abundance, farther than the mind of man can follow. When the Gospel went forth to enrich the Gentiles, it passed the thought of Israel. And, to announce as good news this infinite wealth for all that believe, was the mission given to Paul by the undeserved favour of God.

Ephesians 3:9. And to enlighten etc.: another item of the grace given to Paul, or rather another view of the grace just described.

Enlighten, or shed light upon: as in Ephesians 1:18; 2 Timothy 1:10; Hebrews 6:4; John 1:9. The light may be conceived as cast, either upon the person seeing, who finds himself surrounded by light, or upon the object seen. A cognate word in 2 Corinthians 4:4; 2 Corinthians 4:6.

All: probably not more than our phrase all of them, viz. the Gentiles. For its position is not emphatic; nor have we here the universal phrase found in Romans 5:12; Romans 5:18, etc.

Stewardship of the mystery: as in 1 Corinthians 4:1, stewards of the mysteries of God. It combines the ideas separately expressed in Ephesians 3:2 and Ephesians 3:3. The great secret revealed to Paul was, in reality, spiritual wealth entrusted to him for distribution to others. To make this secret known to the Gentiles, was to give them light. To do this by announcing the unsearchable riches of Christ, was Paul’s joyful task.

Hidden from the ages: from the beginning of time, as in Colossians 1:26.

In God: whose all-knowing mind is the treasury in which this wealth lay hidden. This suggests, as is clearly implied in Ephesians 3:10, that the mystery was not known even to angels.

Who created all things; links together the purpose kept secret for ages with the creation of the universe: so Ephesians 1:4; Colossians 1:16-17. And this suggests that the world was created with a view to the realisation of this purpose.

Ephesians 3:10. Purpose, not of the creation of all things nor of the concealment of the mystery during long ages, but of the chief matter of the sentence, viz. the commission to Paul to proclaim the mystery. For the mention of creation is only passing: and the revelation, which is itself a part of the original purpose, can hardly be said to be the aim of the concealment. Whereas, as expounded above, this ultimate aim increases immensely the grandeur of Paul’s commission. The Gospel he preaches is designed to make-known even to angels something about God not known before. Cp. 1 Peter 1:10.

Now: in contrast to the ages of silence.

The principalities and the authorities: as in Ephesians 1:21. The mention of two ranks of angels throws into bolder relief the greatness of this revelation.

In the heavenly places: as in Ephesians 1:3.

Through the Church: as a visible embodiment of God’s eternal purpose.

Wisdom of God: as in Romans 11:33; 1 Corinthians 2:7; 1 Corinthians 1:24. It is God’s perfect knowledge of whatever is and can be, enabling Him to select the best ends and means.

Manifold or many-coloured; suggests an extreme variety of means used. As the various ranks of angels contemplated the Church on earth, consisting of Jews and Gentiles, of every nationality, rank, degree of culture, and previous character, yet now saved from their sins by the one Gospel of Christ united into one living body with Christ as its Head, and as they observed the combination of various means by which this great consummation has been accomplished, they see, as even angels never saw before, the infinite wisdom with which God selects ends worthy of Himself and the most fitting means. Thus the Church becomes a mirror in which the bright ones of heaven see the glory of God. And, in order to show them this glory, God committed the Gospel to Paul. This teaches that heaven and earth are one great whole; and that good done on earth extends to heaven.

Ephesians 3:11. According to purpose: same words and sense as in Ephesians 1:11; Romans 8:28; 2 Timothy 1:9. A cognate word in Ephesians 1:9.

Of the ages; keeps conspicuously before us the idea of a long-cherished purpose. Paul here asserts that the ultimate aim described in Ephesians 3:10 was in harmony with, i.e. was a part of, the one eternal purpose. Grammatically, the words which follow may mean either that God made, or accomplished, in Christ His great purpose. As matter of fact, both are true. But, inasmuch as the full title Jesus Christ our Lord calls very marked attention to the historic Saviour and as Ephesians 3:12 speaks of actual access to God through Christ, it is perhaps better to understand Paul to refer here to the virtual accomplishment in Jesus of Nazareth of the eternal purpose.

Ephesians 3:12. A new statement proving from spiritual matter of fact the statement in Ephesians 3:11.

In whom we have: as in Ephesians 1:7.

Boldness: or rather the boldness, i.e. the well-known confidence which does not fear to speak the whole truth. Same word and sense in Philippians 1:20.

Access: as in Ephesians 2:18; Romans 5:2.

In confidence: our state of mind in approaching God. Same word in Philippians 3:4.

Through faith: as in Ephesians 2:8; Romans 3:22, etc. A favourite phrase of Paul.

Faith in Him: literally, the faith of Him; i.e. the faith of which He is the personal object. ‘Through our assurance that the words of Christ are true and will come true, and in virtue of our relation to Him, we have a confidence which enables us to speak unreservedly to man and to approach God without fear.’ By giving to us this confidence, God has, in the historic Christ, accomplished a purpose formed before time began.

Ephesians 3:13. In Ephesians 3:12, Paul completed his account, begun in Ephesians 3:2, of the stewardship committed to him. This prompts a request bearing upon Ephesians 3:1, a reference indicated by the words on your behalf which recall the same words in Ephesians 3:1. They mark the close of the long parenthesis, Ephesians 3:2-13. Paul then takes up the thought interrupted by the parenthesis, noting the resumption by the words for this cause carried on from Ephesians 3:1 to Ephesians 3:14.

For which cause: because of this boldness towards men and God which Christians have in Christ and through faith.

I ask: more fully, ask as a favour to myself: so Colossians 1:9. It is a courteous request suggesting the pleasure and profit which the Christian courage of his readers will give to Paul.

My afflictions on your behalf: cp. Colossians 1:24, my sufferings on your behalf; and see note.

Not to faint: same word and sense in 2 Corinthians 4:1; 2 Corinthians 4:16; Galatians 6:9. Paul begs his readers, as a personal favour to himself, not to lose courage in the great fight through the hardships which he endures in order to preach the Gospel to them. This request, his own confidence in Christ emboldens him to make. For he is sure that Christ is able to make them also brave. Then follows a reason for not losing heart: which are your glory. Paul declares, conscious that his own brave perseverance is a manifestation of the grace of God, that his sufferings are an ornament to his readers. They can point to his unfaltering courage under great hardships as a confirmation of the Gospel which he preaches and they believe. Surely, their hearts need not sink because of afflictions which bring honour to the whole Church.

Glory: as in 1 Corinthians 11:7; 2 Corinthians 8:23.

REVIEW. Paul’s recital in § 2 of blessings conferred, in accomplishment of an eternal purpose, upon Jews and Gentiles, prompts him in § 3 to pray that God may reveal to the Ephesian Christians His own great power already at work in those who believe. As a measure of this power, he points them to Christ raised from the dead and seated at God’s right hand. And, that his readers may apply to themselves this standard of measurement, Paul teaches in § 4 that they once were dead, and in § 5 that Christ has breathed into them new life, thus saving them through faith. This salvation he further describes in § 6 as bringing near those who once were far off not only from God but from the ancient people of God, and as reconciling to God Jews and Gentiles united into one body. The various parts of the Church, however separate they may now seem to be, are destined to become one temple, one dwelling-place of God. All this moves Paul to pray for his readers’ further development. But, while preparing to pray, the prisoner remembers his bonds, and that they were caused by his loyalty to the truth which brought salvation to the Gentiles. He delays for a moment his prayer that he may set forth his relation to the Gospel which has brought this unexpected salvation. And this delay interrupts the grammatical sequence of his letter. In undeserved favour, God has made Paul a steward of good things for the Gentiles, by revealing to him a secret kept in silence while successive generations of men passed to the grave.

But the secret has now been revealed to certain men whom God has made the mouth-piece of His Spirit. The secret is that through the Gospel the Gentiles are to share all the spiritual privileges of the people of God. Of this Gospel, Paul is a servant. With profound gratitude for God’s kindness to one so unworthy, he repeats what he has just said. It is his happy lot to announce as good news the wealth entrusted to him for others, viz. the secret so long hidden in the mind of God. The ultimate aim of the trust reposed in Paul reaches even to the bright ones of heaven, to whom God has purposed to reveal through His united people on earth His own many-sided wisdom. This purpose God has carried into effect in Christ. Its effect is seen in the confidence towards man and God already enjoyed by those who believe. In view of all this, Paul begs his readers, as though half apologizing for mention of his imprisonment, not to be discouraged by his hardships but rather to rejoice in the divinely-given endurance they evoke.


Verses 14-21

SECTION 8. — PAUL PRAYS THAT HIS READERS MAY KNOW CHRIST AND THUS ATTAIN THE CONSUMMATION DESIGNED BY GOD.

CH. 3:14-21.

For this cause I bow my knees to the Father from whom every family in heaven and upon earth is named, in order that He may give to you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit to the inward man, that Christ may dwell through faith in your hearts; in order that, being rooted and foundationed in love, ye may be strong to apprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth, and length, and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge; in order that ye may be filled to all the fulness of God.

To Him that is able to do beyond all things abundantly beyond the things which 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.

This section contains in Ephesians 3:14-19 a sublime prayer for the readers, consisting of three petitions, viz. Ephesians 3:16-17 and Ephesians 3:18-19 a and Ephesians 3:19 b, each leading up to the petition following; and in Ephesians 3:20-21 a doxology of praise to Him who is able to surpass in fulfilment our loftiest prayer or thought.

Ephesians 3:14-15. For which cause; takes up the same words in Ephesians 3:1, after the digression prompted by the latter part of Ephesians 3:1, and continues the line of thought there broken off. That the Christians at Ephesus who were once far off; are now (Ephesians 2:21-22) stones built into the rising walls of the temple of God, was prompting Paul in Ephesians 3:1, while in prison through his loyalty to their spiritual interests, to pray for them. But his prayer was delayed to make way for an account of his Apostolic commission for the Gentiles. This account he closes by an assertion that in Christ his readers and himself have confident access to God. He begs them not to lose heart through his persecutions; and declares that these, by revealing the grandeur of the grace of God, cover them with splendour. And now comes the postponed prayer, introduced by a repetition of the words of the broken-off sentence, for this cause: i.e. because of his readers’ confident access to God by faith and the glory which is theirs through the sufferings of Paul. Thus both § 7 and § 8 were prompted by the actual spiritual life of those to whom he writes.

Bow… knee: same phrase in Romans 11:4; Romans 14:11; Philippians 2:10 : slightly different from Acts 7:60; Acts 9:40; Acts 20:36; Acts 21:5. So intensely real, so deliberate and solemn, is Paul’s approach to God for his readers that even while writing he forgets his actual posture and says I bow my knees. He turns in prayer to the Father from whom etc.

Family: same word in Exodus 6:15, These are the families of the sons of Simeon; and in Numbers 1:16, leaders of the tribes according to their families, etc.

Every family in heaven: the various classes of angels, e.g. those mentioned in Ephesians 1:21. So in Job 1:6; Job 2:1 the sons of God can be no other than angels: and the word is so rendered by the LXX. They are sons of God as sharing, by derivation from Him, His moral and intellectual nature; not by adoption, which is always the reception of a stranger’s child, but by creation and continuance in the image of God.

Every family… on earth: Jews and Gentiles, or any other classes into which the race is divided. Not all men indiscriminately, but the adopted sons, according to Paul’s constant teaching: see under Romans 8:17. With the various families of heaven are associated, as children of one divine Father, families of adopted sons on earth. And, from the one Father, all these bear the same name: cp. Ephesians 1:21.

Notice that, in harmony with the exalted standpoint of the whole Epistle, when Paul approaches God in prayer his eye passes the limits of earth and sees other races sharing with himself a name which enables them to call God their Father. Thus the cry, My Father God, unites earth to heaven.

Ephesians 3:16-19. Contents of Paul’s prayer. It consists of three parts, Ephesians 3:16-17; Ephesians 3:18-19 a; Ephesians 3:19 b; each under the same conjunction, which represents the contents of the prayer as also its aim; in order that God may give… in order that ye may be strong… in order that ye may be filled.

Ephesians 3:16. In order that He may give to you: same words and sense in Ephesians 1:17.

The riches of His glory: the abundance of the splendour of God. Same words in Romans 9:23. Similarly Ephesians 1:7; Philippians 4:19. Conscious that the answer to his prayer will reveal the grandeur of God and thus evoke the admiration of men, and that there is in God an infinity of grandeur ready to reveal itself, Paul asks that this infinite grandeur may be the measure of the answer to his prayer.

Strengthened: fitted for the intellectual and moral effort and work and battle of the Christian life. Same word and sense in 1 Corinthians 16:13; Luke 1:80; Luke 2:40. It is practically the same as the similar word in Colossians 1:11; Philippians 4:13. This strengthening is to come by contact with divine power, which enters into us and makes us strong. Similar connection of thought in Colossians 1:11.

Through (or by means of) His Spirit: the Bearer of the presence and power of God. Same or similar words and same sense in Romans 5:5; 1 Corinthians 12:8; 2 Timothy 1:14.

The inward man: that in man which is furthest removed from the outer world and its influence, the secret chamber in which man’s personality dwells alone. Same words and sense in Romans 7:22; 2 Corinthians 4:16. Paul prays that, by contact with the might of God and by the agency of the Holy Spirit, the inward Bearer to man’s spirit of all divine influences, divine strength may reach and fill this inmost chamber, making his readers strong indeed.

Ephesians 3:17. A clause exactly parallel to that preceding it.

Dwell: or make His home: same word in Colossians 1:19; Colossians 2:9; Hebrews 11:9; Matthew 2:23; Matthew 4:13. In Romans 8:9; Romans 8:11 and 1 Corinthians 3:16 cognate words describe the indwelling of the Spirit of God: cp. also 2 Corinthians 6:16 and Colossians 3:16.

In your hearts: the locality of spiritual life: same words and sense in Colossians 3:15-16; Romans 5:5; cp. Ephesians 1:18; Ephesians 4:18; Ephesians 6:5; Galatians 4:6. The heart is the inmost chamber of our nature, whence come our thoughts, words, and actions: see under Romans 1:21. It is, therefore, practically identical with the inner man. Moreover, the Holy Spirit is the divine person through whose agency Christ dwells in man. For the coming of the other Helper is the coming of Christ to His disciples: John 14:18. Hence the indwelling of the Spirit is practically the indwelling of Christ: Romans 8:9-11; cp. Galatians 2:20. Now Christ has all power. Therefore, for Him to make His home in our heart, is for God to give us, by the agency of the Holy Spirit, the Bearer of the presence of Christ, a strength reaching to the inmost chamber of our being. Moreover, faith is the constant condition of the gift of the Spirit: Ephesians 1:13; Galatians 3:2; Galatians 3:14. Consequently, it is through faith that Christ makes His home in our hearts. Thus each of these parallel clauses explains the other. This unexpected reference to faith is in complete accord with Ephesians 2:8, and with the importance everywhere given to faith in the theology of Paul as the means of salvation.

The above exposition is better than to take the indwelling of Christ as a result of the strengthening wrought by the Spirit; a connection of thought not found elsewhere. The presence of Christ in us is not a result, but a means, of the spiritual strength for which Paul prays.

Ephesians 3:18-19 a. Second petition of Paul’s prayer.

Love: to our fellows, as always when not otherwise defined: see under 1 Corinthians 13:1. It is a reflection in man of God’s love to man.

Rooted: same word and sense in Colossians 2:7.

Foundationed, i.e. placed upon a solid foundation: same word in Colossians 1:23; Hebrews 1:10; Matthew 7:25. Notice the double metaphor: a similar combination in Colossians 2:7. A man animated by Christian love has therein good soil in which his spiritual life may take firm hold and raise its head securely, and from which it may derive nourishment and growth. He has also a firm rock on which may rest and rise a solid structure of immoveable perseverance. Cp. 1 John 2:10. Where love does not reign, the Christian life is always unstable.

The above words may grammatically be joined either to those preceding or to those following. In the former case, they would further describe the state of those in whom Christ dwells: in the latter, they would state a condition needful in order to comprehend the love of Christ. The latter seems the more likely: so A.V. and R.V. For the strength implied in this root and foundation seems to lead up to the strength needful to comprehend etc. [This would also more easily explain the nominative participles, rooted and foundationed. For the construction, cp. 2 Corinthians 2:4; Galatians 2:10.] But the difference is slight. For Paul’s first petition, in Ephesians 3:16-17, leads up to the second as a means to an end; so that in any case the firmness developed by Christian love is a condition of the spiritual strength needful to comprehend the love of Christ.

That ye may etc.: immediate object of the second petition.

May-be-strong: an emphatic Greek word, found in the Greek Bible only here and Sirach vii. 6, denoting strength to carry us through and out of difficulty. It suggests the difficulty of comprehending the love of Christ.

Comprehend: same word and sense in Acts 4:13; Acts 10:34; Acts 25:25. It denotes firm mental grasp. And what Paul desires for his readers he desires for all the saints. This desire is prompted by remembrance that it is designed equally for all.

What is the breadth etc.: an indirect question suggesting wonder and adoring curiosity.

Breadth and length etc.: as though Paul attempted to measure the love of Christ in each direction, e.g. how wide is its compass, how far it will carry us, how high it will raise, and from what depth it will rescue. But these must not be taken as the intended distinction of the four dimensions. They are altogether indefinite, simply noting measurement in every direction. Cp. Job 11:7-9. What Paul desires his readers to comprehend, he does not in Ephesians 3:18 say, but interrupts his sentence to suggest its manysidedness and vastness. The matter to be grasped is stated in Ephesians 3:19 a.

To know: already implied in comprehend, but inserted for marked contrast to the words which follow.

The love of Christ: to us, revealed (2 Corinthians 5:15) in His death for all, and well known to Paul as a constraining power and as the ground (Galatians 2:20) of his faith in Christ.

Surpassing: as in Ephesians 1:19; Ephesians 2:7 : passing all limits and all measurement; and doing this, as implied in Ephesians 3:18, in every direction. This love surpassing knowledge, Paul desires his readers to comprehend and to know. Nor was this an empty wish. For, though human knowledge cannot fathom it, a determined effort to fathom it ever leads to blessed result by revealing its immeasurable depth. Thus in a very real sense men may know that which in its fulness surpasses knowledge. The greatness and difficulty of this attempt to fathom the unfathomable prompted the emphatic word rendered may-be-strong. And, since this strength is possible only to those whose Christian life is made firm by, and draws nourishment from, love to their brethren, and rests upon this love as on a solid foundation, Paul prefaces this second petition by the words rooted and foundationed in love.

Ephesians 3:19 b. Third and culminating petition. Paul desires his readers (1) to be strengthened by the indwelling of Christ, in order that thus (2) they may know the love of Christ, and in order that thus finally (3) they may be filled etc.

Filled: made full or fully developed so as to attain the goal of their being. Fulness: result of being filled or fulfilled: see under Colossians 1:19. The fulness of God: either that with which God is Himself full or the fulness which He gives, filling others or working in them a realisation of the possibilities of their being. These senses are closely allied. For all good in man is an outflow of the eternal excellence of God. And only by being filled with blessing from God can we attain our own complete development. This divinely-given and full development is the measure and aim of the fulness with which Paul prays that his readers may be filled: to all the fulness of God. [The preposition εις has the same sense of a goal to be reached in Ephesians 4:13.] Such fulness leaves in man no aching void and no defect. It is God’s gift and is an impartation to man, according as he is able to contain it, of that infinite abundance in which every desire of the nature of God finds ever complete satisfaction.

Such is Paul’s prayer. It begins and ends with an appeal to the infinite wealth of God. This is, as he approaches the one Father of angels and men, the measure of his desire and his faith. For, to answer his prayer, will reveal the abundance of the splendour of God. His first petition is that his readers be strengthened by the agency of the Holy Spirit, even to the inmost chamber of their being: or, what is practically the same, that Christ may make His home in their hearts. He remembers that this inward presence of Christ is, like all Gospel blessings, through faith. This first petition is but a stepping stone to others greater. Paul desires that Christ may dwell in his readers’ hearts in order that by personal and inward contact with Him they may know the infinite greatness of His love. To form any worthy conception of this love, passes so completely all human intellectual power that before asking for this knowledge Paul prays that his readers may receive from the Spirit of God divine strength for this arduous spiritual task. And he reminds them that this strength needs the nourishment and support found in Christian love. He wishes them to measure in every direction the love of Christ, that the failure of their measurement may reveal a vastness which leaves behind the utmost limits of human and created thought. Yet even this is not the ultimate aim of Paul’s prayer. Knowledge, even of God, is but a means to a further end. Paul desires his readers to know in order that thus they may be made full, or rather that thus they may attain the goal of their being. And this goal is God Himself. He prays that, by the impartation of that fulness in which are realised the possibilities of God’s own nature, his readers may attain the satisfaction of every spiritual instinct and the aim of their being.

Ephesians 3:20. Rising by three successive stages, Paul has now reached the summit of his mighty prayer. Conscious of the greatness and difficulty of that for which he has asked, he remembers that the omnipotence of God passes infinitely all human word or thought. In this surpassing power of God his faith now takes refuge.

To Him that is able: cp. Romans 16:25; Judges 1:24. Paul has prayed that his readers be strengthened by the power of God so as to have strength to comprehend the surpassing love of Christ. He now appeals to the only source of this strength, the infinite power of God.

Beyond all things: passing all limits. This is further expounded by the parallel phrase, exceedingly beyond etc.

The things which we ask or think: specific details included in all things. God’s power to do goes not only beyond these but exceedingly beyond them.

Think: as in Romans 1:20 : a looking through things around to the realities underlying them. Of such mental sight, Paul is conscious: we think. His thoughts go beyond his prayers. But God’s ability to perform goes infinitely beyond both prayers and thoughts.

This appeal to the power of God to perform this great petition is in harmony with the truth that already His power is at work in His people’s hearts: according to the power which is at work in us. Close parallel of thought and expression in Ephesians 1:19-20. The power already at work in them, a power surpassing all word and thought of man, stimulates Paul’s faith that the great prayer just offered will be answered.

Glory: manifested grandeur evoking admiration. See under Romans 1:21. The infinite power of God assures Paul that his great prayer will be answered. He knows that the answer will be an outshining of the grandeur of God and will evoke the adoring admiration of His creatures. And this is his heartfelt desire: to Him be the glory.

In the Church: the human locality of this admiration. Only in the company of the saved is the grandeur of God recognised. To the outer and human sphere of this praise is now added its inner and divine sphere: and in Christ Jesus. A somewhat similar combination in Ephesians 1:3. Only through the historic facts of Christ and so far as we are inwardly united to Him do we recognise the grandeur of God.

The age of the ages: Hebrew superlative, like song of songs. Eternity is here represented as one superlative age; the one age in which all ages culminate. Slightly different in Galatians 1:5.

Generations: as in Ephesians 3:5. Since the men living together on earth are ever changing by death, this word receives sometimes a temporal sense. And Paul here projects into eternity the most conspicuous feature of our conception of time, viz. the passing by of successive generations. Even where generations cannot pass away, and where we cannot easily conceive fresh generations rising, Paul uses a term derived from human life on earth in order to describe in the clearest colours possible the endlessness of the song of praise which the manifested power of God will evoke: to all the generations of the age of the ages.

The mention of the Church in this endless song implies that it will itself endure for ever. This is also clearly implied in Ephesians 5:27. For the bride of the eternal King can never die. We may therefore conceive the glorified human race to continue for ever as a definite and glorious part of the Kingdom of God.

This doxology is the climax of the Epistle. Taking up his pen to write, the prisoner’s first thought is praise to God for blessings already given to his readers. All these he traces to their ultimate source in an eternal purpose of God, a purpose embracing the universe. In the spiritual life of the servants of Christ, the realisation of this purpose has already begun. This moves Paul to pray that his readers may know the infinite greatness of the power already at work in them. As a measure of it, he points to the power which raised Christ from the grave to the throne of God; and declares that spiritually they are already raised from the dead and seated with Christ in heaven. Having thus described their salvation from beneath upwards, Paul further describes it laterally as a bringing near those who were once far away from the people of God, and as a building together of Jews and Gentiles upon one foundation into one glorious temple.

All this moves Paul again to pray for his readers. But he delays his prayer, in view of the just-described union of Jews and Gentiles, to expound his own commission to the Gentiles. Like the blessings for which Paul gave thanks in his first outburst of praise, this commission also has its source in an eternal purpose; and is wider in its scope than the human race, embracing even angels in their successive ranks. The Apostle then, deliberately and solemnly, betakes himself to prayer. He prays to the Father of angels and of men; and appeals to the wealth of splendour ever waiting to reveal itself in Him. He prays that, by the agency of the Spirit and by the indwelling of Christ, his readers may receive, in the inmost chamber of their being, strength to grasp the immeasurable love of Christ, that thus by knowing that which passes knowledge they may themselves be made full to an extent measured by the fulness which God waits to give. The vastness of his prayer compels Paul to appeal to the all-surpassing power of God: and this power evokes from him a song of adoring praise. Thus from praise to prayer and prayer to praise, in the light of the eternal past and the eternal future and in view of a universe to be united under the sway of Christ, in stately and increasing grandeur, rolls forward this glorious anthem, till it culminates in a song of praise begun in the Church on earth but destined to continue through the successive periods of the age of ages.

Notice that each of the two prayers is dominated by thought of the power of God (Ephesians 1:19; Ephesians 3:20) already working in Christians and able to work in them blessings beyond their utmost thought.

 


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Bibliography Information
Beet, Joseph. "Commentary on Ephesians 3:4". Joseph Beet's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jbc/ephesians-3.html. 1877-90.


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Thursday, November 23rd, 2017
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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