6. Our United Relationship in Christ, Pt. 2: “The Mystery of the One Body Revealed” (Eph. 3:1-13)Related Media
What would you say to someone who claimed that Paul’s writings were fiction? Someone once told me that Paul fabricated the whole story of Christianity about the death and resurrection of Christ and that Christ is the Messiah. It’s just a fictional story by Paul, they said. Have you ever wondered where Paul got his teaching? Have you ever wondered about the significance of Paul’s ministry? Isn’t it good that Scripture gives us the answer?
We don’t need to be in any doubt about what he taught, where he got it from, or what its significance is. As the passage we are studying in this article shows, Paul’s ministry was unique in two ways:
1. Because to him God revealed the truth of the mystery of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
2. Because by him the truth of the mystery of the gospel of Jesus Christ was declared to us.
That makes his ministry unique - none other like it. This man who said he was “one born out of due time” (1 Cor. 15:8) was converted and commissioned into God’s service for a particular purpose. So don’t let anyone try to dupe you about the value and authenticity of Paul’s writings.
We find out about Paul’s unique ministry by way of a digression in Eph. 3:1-13. Sometimes digressions are confusing. Often the person forgets what they started out to say: “Now what was I saying?” But Paul’s digression here is full of significance. He begins a prayer, For this reason… (1), then digresses until verse 14 where he picks up his prayer again: For this reason I bow my knees (14). For what reasons did Paul pray?
1. Because of “Our United Transformation in Christ” by which we have been transformed from spiritual death to spiritual life (2:1-10).
2. Because of “Our United Relationship in Christ” by which a distant relationship has been made near (2:11-13), a hostile relationship made peaceful (2:14-18), and a foreign relationship made familial (2:19-22).
For those reasons, Paul breaks into a doxology of prayer. But before doing so he digresses into this explanation of the mystery of Christ as declared in the gospel, the stewardship of which was given to him. Paul’s unique ministry was the revelation to him and the declaration by him of the mystery of Christ. The first aspect of Paul’s unique ministry was…
I. The Revelation Of The Mystery Of Christ (2-6)
This is the vertical unveiling of the mystery, the revelation of God to Paul. For this reason, I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles – since indeed you have heard of the stewardship of the grace of God which was given to me for you (1-2).
Paul was a prisoner, both literally and spiritually. He was literally a prisoner of the political and religious authorities, and he was spiritually a prisoner of Jesus Christ. The Jews had opposed Paul’s mission to the Gentiles and as a result he was now in prison (cf. Acts 21:17ff), but his imprisonment had a divine purpose – it was for them, …on behalf of you Gentiles. Paul was a steward of God’s grace on their behalf and for their blessing.
A steward is someone who takes care of someone else’s affairs or assets. Paul was the steward of this revealed mystery, this revelation that was given to him by God specifically for them. He had been commissioned by God to deliver to them the gospel of the grace of God. This was his unique ministry.
We are all charged with a stewardship – stewardship of our gifts, calling, opportunities, resources, time, and truth. Adam and Eve were given the stewardship over God’s creation. And, like them, we are all held responsible by God for how we discharge that responsibility both spiritually and physically.
Bernard of Clairvaux once wrote:
“Go out into the field of your Lord and consider how even today it abounds in thorns and thistles in fulfillment of the ancient curse. Go out, I say, into the world, for the field is the world and it is entrusted to you. Go out into it not as a lord, but as a steward, to oversee and to manage that for which you must render an account. Go out, I should have said, with careful responsibility and responsible care.” 1
This responsibility reminds us of the parable of the talents (Matt. 25:12-30). Two servants used their talents responsibly but the other buried it in the ground. The master called him wicked and lazy. Are you exercising stewardship over what God has entrusted to you – your spiritual gifts, your assets, your time, your health, your relationships etc.?
Notice that the revelation of the mystery was unique to Paul for 3 reasons. Firstly, because…
1. The Channel Of This Revelation Was Through Paul’s Ministry (1-4)
…how that by revelation he made known to me the mystery (as I have already written briefly, concerning which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) (3-4).
Paul was the channel to whom God revealed the mystery, the truth that all believers, Jews and Gentiles, have been united together in Christ. God chose to make this mystery known to Paul uniquely and it was about this mystery that Paul has written briefly to the Ephesians (presumably referring to chapters 1 and 2), which when they read it, they would understand that his insight into the mystery of Christ was from God.
The second reason that the revelation of the mystery was unique to Paul was because…
2. The Time For This Revelation Was During Paul’s Ministry (5)
…which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to his holy apostles and prophets (5)
It was a mystery because, before it was revealed to Paul, no one knew it. The saints of previous ages did not know the full meaning and nature of God’s promise to Abraham that “in him all the nations shall be blessed” (Gen. 18:18; 22:18), or how God would make Israel “a light to the Gentiles that you should be My salvation to the ends of the earth” (Isa. 49:6). None of the O.T. saints had any concept of the church in which Jew and Gentile would be united in Christ. In fact it was incomprehensible to them even though their O.T. Scriptures teach it. 2
But now God had revealed this mystery to Paul uniquely and more generally by the Spirit to his holy apostles and prophets – i.e. the men who wrote the N.T. Scriptures through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:20-21).
The third reason that the revelation of this mystery was unique to Paul was because…
3. The Substance Of This Revelation Was In Paul’s Ministry (6)
…that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, fellow members of the same body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ (6).
The substance of the mystery that was revealed by God to Paul has to do with the entire theme of this epistle, namely, the reconciliation and union of Jews and Gentiles into one body in Christ. The substance of this mystery is this:
1. That the Gentiles have the same legal status as the Jews: fellow heirs…in Christ (6a). Those who were once excluded from Israel as aliens, strangers, and foreigner (2:12, 19) are now equal in legal standing before God, will enter into the same inheritance (Gal. 3:29), and enjoy the same blessings and the same relationship to God in Christ.
2. That the Gentiles have the same family status as the Jews: fellow members of the same body…in Christ (6b). They are equal members not second class citizens, not visitors, not landed immigrants, not distant relatives but members of the “household of God” (2:19), “for by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free” (1 Cor. 12:13).
3. That the Gentiles have the same spiritual status as the Jews: fellow partakers of the same promise…in Christ (6c). They shared equally in all the promises of God in Christ, of present security in Christ, of eternal life in Christ, of future glory in Christ.
All these privileges are shared equally and fully by Jewish and Gentile believers…
1. By being in Christ – i.e. by being in union with Christ, formed into one community through “Our United Position”.
2. By the gospel – the message by which this mystery is proclaimed to us and by which we enter into its significance.
So, the first aspect of Paul’s unique ministry was the revelation of the mystery of Christ that was given to him. The second aspect of Paul’s unique ministry was…
II. The Declaration Of The Mystery Of Christ (7-13)
The first gift of God’s grace (2, 7) was the revelation of the mystery to Paul (2-3). The second gift of God’s grace was the declaration of the gospel by him to us. If the revelation to Paul by God was the vertical unveiling of the mystery, then Paul’s declaration to us is the horizontal unveiling of the mystery: …of which I became a servant according to the gift of God’s grace given to me by the effective working of his power. To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given (7-8a).
No wonder Paul is overawed with the grace and power of God that was effective in him (8a; cf. 1 Cor. 15:9-10). He seems to say: “To me of all people (can you imagine?) this grace was given.” By the gift of God’s grace (7a) he had been commissioned as a servant of the gospel, no longer a persecutor of the church. By God’s power (7b) he declared a message despite being imprisoned for it.
He was fully conscious of the task which he had been given and his own unworthiness of it. It was all of God’s grace and he was deeply grateful for it. Just so, we should all be grateful for the privilege of serving God. We do not deserve it. It is all of God’s grace.
Notice three characteristics of Paul’s unique ministry of declaration. Firstly…
1. To Proclaim To The Gentiles Christ’s Riches (8b)
…that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ (8b).
The riches of Christ are those described in chapters 1 and 2 - what he has done for us and who we are in him (1:3-14; 2:1-22): our spiritual blessings of election, predestination, adoption, redemption, our inheritance, our spiritual transformation, our unity in the one body, our access to God by the Spirit, our citizenship with the saints, our membership in God’s household.
Such riches are unsearchable, beyond understanding, too vast to fathom, infinite. That was what he preached among the Gentiles by God’s grace and through God’s power.
Second, Paul’s unique ministry of declaration was…
2. To Clarify To Everyone God’s Plan (9)
…to make all people see what is the plan of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ (9).
The purpose of Paul’s declaration of the gospel was to make all people see the truth – to enlighten everyone, to reveal, to clarify, to bring to light the mystery of this united relationship in Christ. What had long been hidden in the mind of the Creator God was now made known. Paul’s purpose was to open people’s eyes (Acts 26:17-18), just as his own eyes had been opened to the truth, and just as God himself has enlightened us by “shining in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). Like Paul, we too have a responsibility to enlighten all people through the gospel, to bring the light of God’s truth to those who are in darkness (cf. Isa. 9:2).
The purpose of Paul’s declaration of the gospel was to clarify God’s plan, a plan to reconcile the Gentiles to himself and to Israel through their salvation and unity, a plan that had been hidden in God from the beginning of the ages, a plan of how the God who created all things through Jesus Christ would re-create a new humanity, making us new creations in Christ and forming us into one community of faith, one new society, one new humanity.
Third, Paul’s unique ministry of declaration was…
3. To Display To The Evil Powers God’s Wisdom (10-11) 3
… so that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places through the church, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord (10- 11)
The ultimate intent of Paul’s declaration was cosmic:
1. That the hostile spiritual powers (the rulers and authorities in the heavenlies) would see in the redemption and unity of the church God’s many-sided wisdom.
2. That these hostile spiritual powers would see in the church the accomplishment of God’s eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, namely, that the death and resurrection of Christ is God’s means of reconciling people to himself and to one another in the church.
The church is God’s witness to the truth of this “mystery”. God has revealed the mystery to Paul, Paul has declared it to the church, and the church manifests it to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. These hostile spiritual powers, who now seek to frustrate God’s purposes by attacking the church and to denigrate God’s wisdom by puffing up their own human wisdom, are witnesses of what God is doing in and through the church. They are seeing the plan of God taking effect even now. Ultimately, the power of God which is currently displayed through the church will one day over throw them. And the praise of God which is currently rendered to God through the church will one say be rendered by them when every knee will bow.
The great purpose of the church is to glorify God by manifesting God’s wisdom to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places so that the entire universe will ultimately give glory to God for his unfathomable plan of redemption accomplished in Christ, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him (12). Evil powers do not have boldness to come into God’s presence but believers do because of our standing in Christ.
Therefore I ask that you do not lose heart at my tribulations for you, which is your glory (13). “Don’t be discouraged that I have been imprisoned for you” Paul says, “but rejoice that, despite my tribulations, God has used me to declare this glorious truth, the mystery of Christ.”
Now you know the truth about Paul’s unique ministry, a ministry that was unique because of God’s revelation to him, a ministry that was unique because of God’s declaration by him. Now we are called to declare that truth to others…
1. To those who walk in darkness and do not obey the truth that they may be brought into the glorious light of Christ and trust him.
2. To those whose eyes are blinded to the truth of Christ, so that their eyes may be opened and turned from darkness to light.
3. To the evil powers of the darkness of this world, who see our lives and who hear our message, so that they would cower in fear at the manifold wisdom of God and the eternal purposes of God in the church which he has accomplished in Christ.
Does your life and your message bear testimony to this? Does Paul’s unique ministry form the basis of your confidence and faith in Christ? Are you eager that others should know the mystery of Christ that Paul has made known to you?
We are stewards of this great mystery, stewards to make known to the watching universe that Jesus Christ is Lord of heaven and earth and that we, in the church, have bowed the knee to his lordship.
1 Citation: Bernard of Clairvaux from Book 2 of On Consideration. Christian History, no. 24.
2 Cf. Gen 12:3; 22:18; 26:4; 28:14 (Gentiles will be blessed by God); Ps. 72 (Gentiles will bless God); Isa. 11:10; 49:6; 54:1-3; 60:1-3 (Messiah will come to Gentiles); Hos. 1:10; Amos 9:11ff (Gentiles will be saved by the Messiah); Joel 2:28-29 (Gentiles will receive the Holy Spirit).
3 In Ephesians, the spiritual powers are evil forces who need to be subjected (cf. 2:2; 6;12)
Related Topics: Ecclesiology (The Church)