We are in the second main section of the epistle where Paul is demonstrating the universal nature of the church by explaining how God brings both Jews and Gentiles into one body (the church) through Jesus Christ. He has highlighted this idea by showing the extraordinary lengths God has gone to in order to bring Gentiles into the church. The assumption for the reader is that the story of how the Jews were brought into Christ is well known, having been documented by the Old Testament writers and Apostles. The story of God's effort for the Gentiles is now recounted by Paul to his Ephesian brethren. The reason for this is that there were problems between Gentile and Jewish Christians who were having difficulties accepting each other's place in the church. The Jews were in the minority numerically but first to receive the gospel; the Gentiles were in the numerical majority but were the newer converts and less educated religiously.
Previously, we looked at what Paul said to remind the Gentile Christians what God had done for them through Jesus Christ in order to get them where they were. He was doing this to counter feelings of resentment towards the Jews that may have been poisoning their overall Christian attitude, which should have been one of gratitude. The Gentiles should be grateful to God, not resentful towards Jews. Paul says that before they were in Christ they were apart from God, they didn't belong with the people of God, they had no hope of salvation, and even if they were converted to Judaism, they were still considered second class citizens. But, Paul continues, now that they are in Christ they have direct access to God through Christ, they are equal partners with the Jews in the kingdom of God, the family of God, and in the temple of God (all of these refer to the church in one way or another).
In addition to this, Paul says they now have hope of salvation, unity with all, and value as the people of God. With this said Paul ends his comments regarding what God has done for the Gentiles and offers a prayer of thanksgiving on their behalf. He will begin this prayer of thanks in chapter 3:14, but first he has one other thing he wishes to discuss with them. So we begin chapter three of the Ephesian epistle with Paul giving the details of his own very special ministry among the Gentiles. He has listed the things God has done for them, now he will give them some information about the person G.00od has specifically appointed to reach out to them with the gospel.
Paul's Apostolic Ministry to the Gentiles
1For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— 2if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace which was given to me for you; 3that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief.
- Ephesians 3:1-3
Vs. 1 – Paul refers back to the original reason why he is in jail: Jewish leaders had him arrested because of their opposition to his work, especially among the Gentiles. Because of this ministry in Christ's name to the Gentiles he has now spent almost three years in jail.
Vs. 2 – Reviews the idea of his own special ministry. His Apostleship is referred to as "grace" because it was understood that he had originally been a persecutor of the church.
Vs. 3 – His Apostleship to the Gentiles (a mystery) was made known to him at his conversion (Acts 22:21, "Go for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.").
He explains in verses 4-7 what God revealed to him when He called him to this special ministry. A ministry that had as its objective the glad news that Gentiles were also eligible to receive God's grace and blessings. This was not made known before, but now has been revealed through Paul's preaching.
This proved to be a difficult issue in the early church. Paul, the persecutor, was given the gift of revealing to the Gentiles the riches available for them in Christ, riches created and preserved in time by God. Riches that men could not obtain (why it was grace) or even understand (why it was enlightenment) but now revealed and given freely to them by God through Christ.
Why the revelation now? In verse 10, Paul says that the unveiling of God's redemptive work would be done in heaven and on earth. Men did not know, angels did not know (I Peter 1:12). Now men know, angels know, and the church is the instrument of this revelation. We see how God considers the church as a precious thing (pillars and support of the truth - I Timothy 3:15). This mystery, hidden for ages, has come to be known through Jesus Christ who is now our mediator to the Father.
In summary, God had a plan to group together all men into one body of saints reconciled to Himself. He prepared and worked His plan to be fulfilled in Jesus Christ (death, burial and resurrection). He used different men, women and angels to accomplish His plan without them knowing the full extent of it. Now that Christ has completed the work, He is using the body of saints (church) itself to reveal His plan to all men and angels too!
Paul asks his readers not to be discouraged on account of his imprisonment. He's been in prison for years and all his work among the Gentiles seems doomed, their position threatened. They may see things in this way, but Paul reassures them in two important ways. First, He describes how their position has always been in God's plan, and second, he reminds them that God considers them as precious in His sight (Ephesians 3:6-11). His imprisonment is a testimony to how important the work among the Gentiles really is and serves as an ongoing symbol. If they realize these things, they will not lose heart. We shouldn't either when we fail, God wants to save us!
Paul's Intercessory Prayer for the Gentile Christians
14For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, 16that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, 17so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.
- Ephesians 3:14-19
Vs. 14 – Paul picks up where he left off in verse one. Because of God's provision for all men in this most extraordinary way, Paul is moved to pray. He prays to God the Father, who is the source of all mankind (why all men need to be united in Christ in order to come to the Father). Christ makes it possible for all men, separated from God and one another, to be united one to another, and to their spiritual Father. (This is why Jesus is the answer to the problems of the world!)
What does he ask for? Before, Paul asked that God would enlighten them so they could better grasp the blessings they have in Christ. Now he asks that God "strengthen" them in various ways: strengthen the "inner man" which refers to the heart/mind/spirit; strengthen with spiritual power, not human power/ability; strengthen them according to God's ability and resources; provide strength through the Holy Spirit, not through self-will/practice/physical effort. Of course this brings us to another question which is, "How does the Holy Spirit strengthen the inner man with power?" The Bible describes two ways that this happens.
God's Word (Acts 20:32)
Paul also tells us in II Timothy 3:5-16 that God's word can lead us to salvation, teach, examine and correct our thinking and understanding. Also, it can train us to live righteously in service to God and others. The Holy Spirit is the one who brings us God's word (II Peter 1:20-21).
Indwelling (Acts 2:38)
Peter the Apostle tells us that at baptism we not only receive forgiveness of sins but also the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Some have taught that this means that the Holy Spirit dwells in us only through His word. The concepts and ideas in the word are in our minds and hearts. However, in Romans 8:11 Paul describes a much more dynamic experience and reality of the Spirit of God within us. I believe the Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit (not just the words) resides in the Christian. I can't explain how God's Spirit co-exists with my spirit in my body, and only know that the Bible says that He does and I believe that. But in Ephesians, Paul says the Spirit strengthens the inner man. The question is, "How does he do this?" I can think of three ways the Bible says that the Spirit does this: He intercedes for us (Romans 8:26); the Spirit enables us to connect with God with confidence in prayer and this confidence strengthens our faith and hope; the Spirit comforts us (Acts 9:31). Not the comfort that comes from counseling and encouragement given to us from others that we understand and appreciate, the Holy Spirit's direct comfort that grants us the peace of mind and heart beyond human understanding (everything in my life is falling apart, and yet, I have no fear because the Lord is with me, this kind of comfort).
Enlightenment (Ephesians 1:18)
It's the Holy Spirit that gives this word of enlightening us to God's will and purpose. So Paul prays for God to strengthen the Gentiles in all of these different ways so they can achieve certain spiritual goals. He's prayed for the means to reach the following two ends.
- To permit them to surrender more of themselves to Christ. Christians need to be strengthened in the inner man, in faith so that Christ can take greater possession of them (i.e. only the spiritually strong can be meek as Christ is meek. Only the spiritually strong can crucify the flesh as Christ was crucified). The idea is that the Holy Spirit strengthens us so that there can be more of Christ in us, and less of us in us.
- To enable them to truly understand the capacity of God's love. As Christ dwells in us and we are growing in Him we begin to see that God's love is endless. It surpasses knowledge - we can't know the end of it. If we are growing in this understanding then there is no end to our development either; and consequently we begin to experience the nature of the eternal life we are called to. In making this prayer, Paul wants them to be filled to the brim with the things of God (love, joy, peace, understanding, etc.).
20Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, 21to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.
- Ephesians 3:20-21
A doxology refers to spontaneous praise. Paul is praying for them, explaining what blessings they have and, in the middle of it is so overcome by the grace and wonder of it all - he breaks out in praise. He praises God who, he says: is able to do more than we ask, think or even imagine (salvation through Christ; who could have even imagined such a thing?). God is also able to answer prayer beyond our wildest imaginations using what we already possess. In this passage of spontaneous praise we see that: God is glorified and praised by His church, God is glorified and praised only in connection with Christ, and God is glorified and praised in this way forever.
We are this church today! He's talking about and to us as well. We are the instrument that delivers the message of salvation in the 21st century. We have the Word and Spirit today. Paul's prayer should be our prayer: more of Christ in us, and that the roots of God's love grow deep within us. Instead of asking for more things, more time, more comfort, we should ask God to expand our capacity to be filled with spiritual blessings. In other words, ask Him to give us a better taste of the world to come, not the world we're in.