Ephesians 3:7-13

Paul identifies himself as “a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace”. The word servant used here as rendering service, like a waiter, a servant who executes the commands of his master and king. Paul clearly sees his purpose as receiving the commands from Jesus Christ and fulfilling the directions given to him by His LORD.

Paul continues saying that “although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people (saints), this grace was given to me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ”. Paul views himself as the most unworthy object of Christ’s redemption, he confesses why in 1 Corinthians 15, “because I persecuted the church of God”. Paul acknowledges his great sin, and the abundance of grace given when the risen LORD Jesus revealed Himself to Saul to save him from his iniquities. Paul was on the road to destruction with false righteousness, thinking that he was doing “God’s work” in killing Christians; the risen Lord Jesus interrupted Paul’s momentum and transforms him from murderous thinking into the Apostle to the Gentiles.

Paul continues saying that this position of “servant of the gospel” was a gift, “given me through the working of His power”. Ephesians 1:19 describes this power: “what is the incomparable greatness of his power toward us who believe, as displayed in the exercise of his immense strength. This power he exercised in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms”. God gave Paul “this grace” to preach, proclaim, enlighten and make plain the message of God’s inclusion of the Gentiles in His manifest plan. God chose Paul to share the good news with the Gentiles and gave him the power to do it.

Paul describes the gospel he was called to preach as “the boundless riches of Christ”; some translations use the word unfathomable or unsearchable. We should understand that this phrase points us to the greatness of God and not towards the idea that we cannot know God rather that God’s grace is without boundaries. Isaiah 55: 8-9 helps to understand this phrase: “Indeed, my plans are not like your plans, and my deeds are not like your deeds,” says the LORD, “for just as the sky is higher than the earth, so my deeds are superior to your deeds and my plans superior to your plans”.

“Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things”. Paul has been given the task of bringing people to see this cosmic mystery which is at last revealed, and how God chooses to work out His eternal purpose. The verb used here “make plain” means “to enlighten” this can be best understood as “fog of spiritual darkness” about to be dispersed by God’s truth. Imagine an early morning fog, which has completely obscured the trees and houses from your sight, then the morning sun breaks through and disperses the fog so you can clearly see. The Holy Spirit provides God’s truth which shines through our spiritual fog to make plain and disperse false teachings and convict us our sins.

Paul continues, “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, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory”.

Paul discloses that God’s plan was to reveal “the boundless riches of Christ” through the church. The descriptive word “manifold” in Greek refers to a beautiful embroidered pattern of various colors in flowers. What a glorious way to describe the church, the new church of Jews and Gentiles woven together into a new creation. This new creation, the church, serves as an object lesson of the wisdom and beauty of God to the angelic hosts “in the heavenly realms”.

Paul believes that the church is to be a central witness to the gospel. This reminds us of the prayer of Jesus for his disciples in John 17. He prayed that the unity and love between the disciples would reflect and be a witness to the unity and love between the Father and the Son. “I am not praying only on their behalf, but also on behalf of those who believe in me through their testimony, that they will all be one, just as you, Father, are in me and I am in you. I pray that they will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me. The glory you gave to me I have given to them, that they may be one just as we are one— I in them and you in me—that they may be completely one, so that the world will know that you sent me, and you have loved them just as you have loved me”. John 17:20-23

Paul concludes this section saying, “In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory”. Through faith in Christ believers have the right, freedom, courage and confidence to approach the throne of God – they have the right of access. What an amazing privilege to be able to approach the Lord of Creation, with confidence. By Christ’s death and resurrection the curtain in the Temple was torn in two and we now have access to God that previously was reserved to the High Priest only once per year. Believers today have that same access; we can approach God with confidence.

Paul’s last statement in this section is “I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory”. In the ancient world, Paul’s imprisonment would be a disgrace, dangerous and something to dissociate yourself from. But Paul turns that concept on end – his sufferings were for their “glory”. Paul has been in prison for about 3 years, I can imagine the believers in Ephesus are starting to get discouraged and fearful of Paul’s impending sentence. But Paul says this is all for their glory, because he preached the gospel of Jesus Christ, in which Paul reveals God glorious plan to include the Gentiles for redemption.

Ephesians 3:1-6

The Apostle Paul is under house arrest in Rome, chained night and day to a Roman soldier, but Paul declares that he is “the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles”. Paul begins this section with the phrase “for this reason”, which naturally draws our attention to the previous verses and the discussion about the divide between Jews and Gentiles that is now abolished because of Christ’s sacrifice. Paul states clearly that he is in prison because of His message, the gospel; he is imprisoned for preaching about Christ.

The religious leaders in Jerusalem felt threatened by Christ’s teachings, they didn’t believe that Jesus was the Messiah and pressured the Romans to arrest Paul and bring him to trial on false charges of treason. Paul appealed his case to Caesar which was his right as a Roman citizen. Even though he was under arrest, Paul maintained the firm belief that God was in control of all that happened to him. Paul declares in 2 Timothy that even though he is imprisoned, “God’s message is not imprisoned!” and from Philippians he states “that my situation has actually turned out to advance the gospel”.

Paul writes that by God’s grace he was given the commission to bring God’s message of truth to the Gentiles; this revelation was made known to Paul, revealed to him by the risen LORD Jesus on the road to Damascus. In Acts, we learn that Jesus said to Ananias, “this man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before Gentiles and kings and the people of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name”. Paul is very confident of his calling, in his letter to the Galatians he says, “But when the one who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I could preach Him among the Gentiles”. Even though Paul has been restricted in his travels, for more than two years, first confined in Caesarea and now in Rome, God has provided many opportunities for him to preach Christ. He continues to make converts to Christ during this time; there are many new believers even extending into the imperial guard and Caesar’s household. Now Paul is encouraging all believers to stand firm, to continue to be faithful and to not be ashamed of the Gospel, even though his circumstances are not good his ultimate goal continues; the Gospel is advancing.

Paul is hoping that this letter will help the Ephesians to understand “my insight into the mystery of Christ which was not disclosed to people in the former generations”. “That God would bless the Gentiles, then, was not a new revelation, what then was the new revelation, the mystery hitherto concealed? It was this, that God’s blessing of the Gentiles would involve the obliteration of the old line of demarcation which separated them from the Jews and the incorporation of the Gentile believers together with Jewish believers, without any discrimination, in the new comprehensive community of God’s chosen people”. (F.F. Bruce) The mystery that Paul is speaking about is that “the Gentiles are fellow heirs, fellow members of the body and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus”.

Jesus said in Matthew, “But your eyes are blessed because they see, and your ears because they hear. For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it”. What a glorious privilege we have in this generation, to be able to study and understand these deep mysteries of God that our faithful ancestors and prophets longed to understand. We know and understand because it has been revealed to us by the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and will cause you to remember everything I said to you”.

Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that had been kept secret for long ages, but now is disclosed, and through the prophetic scriptures has been made known to all the nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be glory forever! Amen. Romans 16:25-27

Ephesians 2:14-22

“For he is our peace, the one who made both groups into one and who destroyed the middle wall of partition, the hostility, when he nullified in his flesh the law of commandments in decrees”.

Notice the God action relayed here, it is God who made both Jews and Gentiles into one new group. This is a God generated peace, accomplished when Jesus destroyed the hostility that existed between faithful Jews and faithful Gentiles. He “destroyed the middle wall of partition, the hostility”; Paul uses descriptive language to portray the work of the cross. Some scholars think this is a description of the physical dividing wall in the Temple courts that kept Gentiles, the uncircumcised, separated from the inner courts that were only accessible to circumcised faithful Jews. But we should understand that the language in this verse refers to much more than that particular wall, it seems to also refer to a spiritual separation, a hostility that existed at that time between Jews and Gentiles within the church.

Remember that it was that physical wall in the Temple courts and the very real hostility between Jews and Gentiles that landed Paul in prison in Rome writing to the church in Ephesus. Acts 21 records the encounter; Paul was doing everything that was required by the Law to present himself in the Temple and to facilitate reconciliation between the hostile factions in Jerusalem and the church. Then some Jews from Asia stirred up the crowd in the Temple courts against Paul, falsely accusing him of bringing uncircumcised Gentiles into the restricted area, a riot ensued and Paul was arrested and beaten by the Roman guards. After 2 years of imprisonment in Caesarea, the shipwreck on Malta, Paul and his companions are currently under house arrest in Rome waiting for his trial before Caesar.

There was and continues to be some serious hostility between Jews and Gentiles, but Paul explains how Jesus Christ destroyed this barrier, “when he nullified in his flesh the law of commandments in decrees”. Nullified means to render inoperative, some translations use the word “abolish” but that word implies complete destruction which is not Paul’s intended meaning. The meaning we should understand from this phrase is that Jesus caused the law to lose its power or effectiveness; specifically the purity laws that kept Jewish and Gentile Christians separated and hindered their worshipping together.

“There are many barriers that can divide us from other Christians: age, appearance, intelligence, political persuasion, economic status, race, theological perspective. One of the best ways to stifle Christ’s love is to be friendly with only those people that we like. Fortunately, Christ has knocked down the barriers and has unified all believers in one family. His cross should be the focus of our unity. The Holy Spirit helps us look beyond the barriers to the unity we are called to enjoy”. LIFE Application Bible

“Jesus nullified in his flesh of the law of the commandments in decrees”, this is not to be misconstrued to mean that God’s Laws are no longer valid. Jesus said Matthew 5:17-20, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish these things but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth pass away not the smallest letter or stroke of a letter will pass from the law until everything takes place. So anyone who breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever obeys them and teaches others to do so will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness goes beyond that of the experts in the law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven!”

From Paul’s letter to the Galatians we learn, “Now before faith came we were held in custody under the law, being kept as prisoners until the coming faith would be revealed. Thus the law had become our guardian until Christ, so that we could be declared righteous by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian. For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith.” In Roman culture, the sons and heirs would be put under the custody of a guardian usually a slave whose duty was to conduct the boy in all his education and duties until the youth came of age and was no longer needed a guardian to direct their activities. From this illustration we can understand the use of God’s law in our lives, it is the law that defines our sin which keeps us separated from God, and thus reveals our need of a Savior.

Both Jew and Gentile are condemned by the law, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. Only Christ, who perfectly kept the law, was able to present himself as the perfect Passover lamb to cleanse us of our sins, He did this once for all. Jesus in his flesh nullified the law, from Romans 8:3-4, “For God achieved what the law could not do because it was weakened through the flesh. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the righteous requirement of the law may be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

Paul continues to describe God’s purpose, “He did this to create in himself one new man out of two, thus making peace, and to reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by which the hostility has been killed”. Notice a few things here, this is a new corporate entity united in Christ, not a “Judaized” Gentile nor a “Gentile-ized” Jewish church but a new creation, a united church. This language reminds me of God’s plan for marriage; the two become “one flesh”, a new entity similar to Paul’s description of “one new man out of two”. Additionally, Paul uses the word “create”; this reminds me of the creation when God said, “let us make man in our image”. This new man described in Ephesians, is the church, it is God’s creation made in his image.

Paul continues in Ephesians saying, “And he (Jesus) came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near, so that through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer foreigners and noncitizens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of God’s household, because you have been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”

The result of this message of peace is that both Jewish and Gentile believers have access to God the Father by one Spirit. Notice the work of the Trinity here; believers have access to God the Father through the Holy Spirit because of Christ’s death on the cross. We are no longer strangers or outsiders; we have full access because we are members of God’s household. Paul continues saying that this new building “is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone”. We belong here, in this new home where God is using us, all of us, as the building stones align rightly to and built up from Christ alone. We are being built together, joined together to grow “into a holy temple in the Lord”.

What a beautiful picture, the spiritual temple joined together by believers from all over the world and throughout the generations. 2 Peter 2 relays this same principle, “So as you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but chosen and precious in God’s sight, you yourselves, as living stones, are built up as a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood and to offer spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ….But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may proclaim the virtues of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light”.

Think of how the Levites and High Priest worked in the Temple in Jerusalem, they rotated continuously to keep the incense, oil lamps and bread and sacrifices before the Mercy seat, the throne of God. They were always turned toward the LORD; their entire life was directed towards service, prayers and sacrifice to the LORD. Now God has declared that we who are believers are a chosen race and a royal priesthood. All of us, not just the professional clergy should have our lives turned towards the LORD, living confidently as a chosen race and serving as a royal priesthood.