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High Notes

Ephesians 3

This passage reads with some difficulty to modern eyes, for it does not have the short, choppy sentences so favored by post-Hemingway English teachers. It is a Baroque symphony on the servant of Christ.

God's Intentions

(Eph 3:1-6 NIV) For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles-- {2} Surely you have heard about the administration of God's grace that was given to me for you, {3} that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. {4} In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, {5} which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God's holy apostles and prophets. {6} This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

The Administration of God's Grace

The word that Paul uses here for "administration" is also translated "stewardship." (Also "dispensation" or "commission.") It carries with it the meaning of one who has been appointed over the affairs of a household, to manage the finances of the household for the benefit of the owner. It is in this administration or stewardship that Paul tells the Ephesians about the mystery of Christ.

This mystery was not uncovered by intense study. Indeed, Paul explicitly tells us that God has chosen to reveal this mystery at this time to the apostles and prophets of the church. This is a recapitulation of the theme he developed in chapter two.

The Mystery of Christ

When we use the word "mystery" today, we think of a detective novel, perhaps a Sherlock Holmes or Agatha Christie. The concept is somewhat similar in the New Testament. It does not involve crime, necessarily, but rather something which is hidden. In our terms, who did it. In God's terms, what were his eternal intentions. These intentions, hidden through the ages until the coming of Christ, had three key elements:

·         First, that the Jews and Gentiles would together share the promises given to the patriarchs of old.

·         Next, that they would be formed into one body, the church. The distinction would no longer exist.

·         Finally, that they would share the promise of the New Testament: the Holy Spirit, who gives eternal life, including the bodily resurrection.

The Servant of God

Paul now warms to his topic: the servant of God.

(Eph 3:7-12 NIV) I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God's grace given me through the working of his power. {8} Although I am less than the least of all God's people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, {9} and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. {10} His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, {11} according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. {12} In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.

How one becomes a servant of God

There does not seem to be an employment office to become a servant of God. Indeed, Paul makes it quite clear that he is a servant by the grace of God, God's free gift. Why is this so?

·         So that we might see an example of God's mercy. In seeing that God has showered grace upon Paul we learn something about God: that he is merciful to perfection. A perfect example which we should imitate!

·         So that we might imitate one who imitates God. God the Father is merciful, but God the Father is invisible. Paul the Apostle - or any other Christian leader - whom we can see showing mercy gives us a living example to imitate.

·         So that we might not despair. If God forgave and then used to the highest point one who persecuted his own church, is there any sin we can commit and say, "I am too wicked to be forgiven?"

Such servanthood does not come with just a Bible and a map with directions. It comes with power. You become a servant of God through the power of God Why is this?

·         First, for the accomplishments' sake. We achieve things through his power, not our weakness, and therefore we can achieve so much more.

·         Next, so that our faith might be increased. If we will look back and see what God has done through us - despite our weakness or unfitness for the task - then we can see his power and have faith in it.

·         Finally, so that we might not doubt the possibility of anything. He said we could move mountains if we believe. Therefore, when he gives us a task, we should not look to our means but his power.

The character of God's servants

Please see this carefully. God does not use what he has at hand; he shapes what he has at hand into what he wants. When he shapes a servant, we see three things that Paul has shown here:

·         First, we see humility. Once the servant of God appreciates that it is the power of God at work, there is no room for pride and boasting.

·         Next, there is the unlikeliness of the servants of God. Nothing is so remarkable about God's servants as the remarkable fact that they were "least likely to succeed." The devout Pharisee, Saul of Tarsus, would never consort with the Gentiles. Paul, the Apostle, is sent to these same Gentiles. They are one and the same man.

·         How is this possible? Because God equips, or better said, gifts, his servants with what they will need. The servant says, "I can't see how I could do that." God says, "I didn't say you'd see it - I said you can do it through my power."

The intentions of God

Why does God do this? It certainly is not because of the loveliness of men like Saul of Tarsus. He has his own purposes - and reveals them here.

·         First, that his wisdom might be made known. But see to whom the wisdom is being made known - to those in heaven! It is an interesting point. God did this so that the angels, rulers and authorities in heaven (of whom we know almost nothing) might be enlightened as to his purpose.

·         Note that they shall be enlightened through the church. I do not take this to mean that I shall soon have angels attending my Sunday School class. Rather, that God is teaching them a lesson in his character by the establishment, growth and ultimate calling home of the church.

·         Finally, please see that this is his eternal purpose. He intended this from the beginning. It just awaited the proper time for revealing.

Prayer for the Ephesians

Paul now delivers the summing up of his theology - before moving to the admonitions of the practical side in chapter four.

(Eph 3:13-21 NIV) I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory. {14} For this reason I kneel before the Father, {15} from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. {16} I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, {17} so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, {18} may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, {19} and to know this love that surpasses knowledge--that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. {20} Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, {21} to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Preliminary: Don't be discouraged

There is always a temptation for the congregation to become discouraged about its future and strength when a leader falls ill, suffers or is persecuted. It is a natural human feeling. It can cause trouble, and Paul knows it - so he asks them not to be discouraged.

Rather, he says, suffering should be considered glory. The Apostles took it so; whenever they were persecuted, their reaction was to rejoice. It meant that they were worthy to be persecuted for the cause of Christ. Indeed, it is the litmus test of Christianity: if you love Jesus, and are his disciple, you will be persecuted, one way or another.

But there is a particular aspect to glory and suffering here. Paul's sufferings are the glory of the Ephesian church. How can this be? Consider it this way: if Paul had been ineffective as an evangelist (in particular with the Ephesians, with whom he spent several years) then the Romans and the Jews would have ignored him. But he was highly effective, and therefore greatly threatening to the established order of the day. Hence the persecution - which means that the Ephesians are the proof of Paul's work.

Prayer: attitude check

Paul begins his prayer with an attitude adjustment. He kneels before God (the word can also be rendered "prostrated"). He then tells us why this is so important: we derive our name from God. Indeed, we call ourselves Christians, "Christ" - "ians", meaning "little Christs." What's in a name?

·         I have a rather unusual last name. As a boy growing up, I had many a fight with those who poked fun at my last name. I'm proud of my family, and I defend the honor of my name. I do not allow it to be dragged in the mud. Now, if I will do that for my own name, how much more should I honor the name of God Almighty?

·         In the Old Testament a name is not just a label. It is a title which denotes the character of the person. In that sense, the highest name we can have is the name of God.

·         We still use "in the name of" to mean something like "in the authority of." By using that name we claim that authority.

·         Having a family name makes you a family heir. We are the heirs to the riches of God, and the promises made to that family.

Prayer: power

Note that Paul prays for power for the Ephesians. But what kind of power?

·         It is power in the inner being. If I am to conquer anything, I must first conquer myself. If he is to conquer anything through me, Christ must first conquer me. Inner power is unassailable.

·         It is by the Spirit. Note, therefore, that it is not power that we carry around and contain; it is power beyond us, flowing through us, power that created the universe.

·         That power is given not so that we may physically triumph over others, but rather so that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith. It is not conquest of others that he desires, but an increasing closeness and fellowship with Christ.

Prayer: rooted in love

When you are "rooted" in something - well, look at a rosebush. It cannot move from the ground in which it is planted. We, too, should not move from our "ground" which is the love of God. More than that, a rose is planted not that it occupy space but that it grow and flower. We are rooted in love so that we might grow in Christ and produce flowers (or fruits, if you like the New Testament analogy better) for him.

This has a purpose: it is so that we -- as a group, please note --

·         Might see how great the love Christ truly is! The more we grow in it, the more we see of this.

·         Indeed, we will eventually come to the realization that we cannot know how great it is!!!

·         In this contradiction - that we may know how great it is, and know that we cannot know how great it is - we will be filled. How? Only an infinite love could meet this description - and God's love is infinite in Christ Jesus.


The doxology begins with a description of God:

·         He's the one who is able - able to do more than anything we could possibly imagine,

·         But does so through us - so that his power might be shown in weakness, that the heavens and the world should marvel, and believe.

To this God, then, be the glory:

·         In the church. Hey, that's us! We are to be glory to God, something which shows his greatness. Let the world see his church, and praise God for what he has done.

·         In Christ. In his life, teaching, death and resurrection, God is glorified,

·         Forever, both by the church (us) and by Christ.

Amen, indeed!

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