Paul’s Ministry to the Gentiles
Paul begins his second prayer in this letter with the same phrase that he began his first prayer (in 1:15-23) : “For this reason…”Once again we see that Paul’s prayer is given in response to what he knows God has done for the recipients of his prayer.
I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles-
2 Surely you have heard about the administration of God's grace that was given to me [Paul] for you [Gentiles]…As he starts this prayer, he begins with an emphatic statement about himself:That he is “a prisoner for Christ Jesus”And that his imprisonment is “on behalf of you Gentiles”“[Paul’s] proclamation of the law-free gospel to Gentiles led directly to his arrest and detention in Jerusalem, Caesarea, and Rome (cf. Acts 21:17-36 with Rom.15:14-32)” (O’Brien, p.226)With the mention of his imprisonment on their behalf as Gentiles, Paul decides to interrupt his prayer and describe for them in more detail the special ministry that God has given him in service to the Gentiles.He will later pick up his prayer again in verse 14, beginning again with the same phrase: “For this reason…”:1 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…In verses 2-12 Paul elaborates on his ministry to the Gentiles and the revelation of the “mystery” that he has received concerning them. Then in verse 14 he resumes his prayer:14 For this reason I kneel before the Father…As Paul describes the special ministry that God has called him to – a ministry that involved suffering and imprisonment – he emphasizes, as though in amazement, God’s grace in giving him this ministry as a gift:2 Surely you have heard about the administration of God's grace that was given to me [Paul] for you [Gentiles]…7 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… (Ephesians 3:2,7-8)
“The words with which the digression begins, Surely you have heard, imply that some of those addressed were not personally acquainted with Paul.” (O’Brien, p.226-7)No doubt, there had been many converts in the five or six years since Paul had been there.Some believe this is further evidence that Ephesians was written as a circular letter to churches in Asia Minor.
the administration of God's grace that was given to me [Paul] for you [Gentiles]…
The administration of God's grace is a reference to the special commission that God gave Paul as apostle to the Gentiles to proclaim the gospel and to reveal the inclusion of Gentiles along with Jews in God’s church.
I have become [the church’s] servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness-- the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. (Colossians 1:25-26)
Paul indicates that he received this special commission from God when the mystery was revealed to him.
“Paul is first careful to explain that he received the mystery by revelation. He wanted to prevent the misconception that it was developed by his own or someone else’s ingenuity.” (Hoehner, p.425)We saw in 1:9-10 that a “mystery” in the NT refers to something that was hidden in ages past but has now been revealed through the teachings of the apostles – a revealed secret!The mystery in 1:9-10 referred to God’s ultimate goal of uniting all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.“Here a more limited dimension to the mystery focuses on Gentiles along with Jews, being incorporated into the body of Christ…” (O’Brien, p.228)
as I have already written briefly.
Paul has already written briefly about this mystery of the inclusion of Jews and Gentiles in God’s church earlier in this letter (2:11-22 – especially vv.14-16) – he is now going to elaborate further.
Now that the Ephesians understand that it was Paul who was first entrusted with this mystery, he desires that they too may understand this mystery by reflecting on what he has written to them.
The mystery (=revealed secret that Jews and Gentiles would be united as co-equals in one body) was not known to men living in OT times.This is not to say that the OT does not speak of Gentiles being blessed along with Jews (Isaiah 2:1-4; 11:10; 49:6; 60:1-3, 61:5-6; Jer.3:17, etc.)What is new is the uniting of Jews and Gentiles into one body and obliteration of all distinctions.
as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God's holy apostles and prophets.
In contrast (to the mystery not being known in the OT) it has now been revealed (in the NT):By the Holy SpiritTo the apostles and prophets
apostles and prophets.
Apostles = men in the early church (i.e. the “foundation” - cf. 2:20) who received direct revelation from God and were commissioned by Christ to proclaim his message in oral and written form (from which we receive our NT scriptures)Prophets = NT prophets – men in the early church (i.e. the “foundation” - cf. 2:20) who received direct revelation from God for the building up of the early church body (1Cor 14:3,31)
The content of the mystery (God’s revealed secret) is now spelled out.The Gentiles are:Fellow Heirs with IsraelFellow Members of the Same Body (as Israel)Sharers Together in the Promise (with Israel)
through the gospel
Gentiles (as well as Jews) only receive these benefits through the gospel – that is, they must hear and believe the gospel in order to become fellow heirs joined together in Christ.Otherwise Gentiles will remain as they largely were before the coming of Christ: without hope and without God in the world (2:12).
Paul has been discussing the revelation of the mystery to him – now he tells how the benefits revealed in this mystery were received by the gospel preached though him.“The saving purposes of God involved not only a revealing of the gospel mystery to Paul, but also the pressing of him into the service of that gospel. ” (O’Brien, p.238)
by the gift of God's grace given me
“Paul’s calling to be a missionary to the Gentiles was not his own doing; rather, it was wholly due to the gracious, sovereign intervention of God” (O’Brien, p.238)
through the working of his power.
“…everything Paul has become and achieved in his apostolic mission is not his own doing, but the result of God’s grace – God’s choice of him, God’s call to him, God’s enabling power” (O’Brien p.239)But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them-- yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. (1 Corinthians 15:10)
“As he reflects on his commission to be Christ’s missionary to the Gentiles, Paul is filled with amazement at the extraordinary privilege that has been given to him.” (O’Brien, p.240)
Although I am less than the least of all God's people
“As if the superlatives ‘least’ (among the apostles, 1Cor.15:9) or ‘first and foremost’ (of sinners, 1Tim 1:15) were insufficient to express his unworthiness, Paul creates a new form of this Greek adjective, that is a comparative of a superlative (‘leaster’, ‘less than the least’).” (O’Brien, p.240)
this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles
It was God’s grace that enabled Paul to carry out his mission to the Gentiles.“Further, God works effectively in Paul’s life, for although he is deeply conscious of his own unworthiness, this does not hinder him from assuming his missionary responsibilities … to the Gentiles.” (O’Brien, p.241)
to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ…
The word unsearchable means: “unfathomable, impossible to comprehend” (O’Brien, p.241-2)The riches that God has given us in Christ are beyond our wildest imagination!Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! (Romans 11:33)
To make plain (Greek word: PHOTIDZO) means “to enlighten, illumine”, literally “to bring to light” (Hoehner)
and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God
As Paul preaches the gospel (the unsearchable riches of Christ - v.8) to the Gentiles and they become fellow members, along with Jewish Christians of the same body, he is (through his preaching) bringing to light for all to see how God’s now-revealed secret plan – known only to God for ages – is to be carried out!
God, who created all things.
“Salvation and the unity of Jew and Gentile in Christ have always been [God’s] purpose…And he who created all things in the beginning with this goal in mind will [complete] his work of re-creation on the final day when he brings all things together… in his Son…” (O’Brien, p. 244)
“It is remarkable that God purposed to make known his manifold wisdom, the mystery, to heavenly rulers through the church rather than telling them directly.” (Hoehner, p. 458)
“[The church] should probably be taken as the heavenly gathering that is assembled around Christ and as the local congregation of Christians, in which Jews and Gentiles are fellow-members of the body of Christ.” (O’Brien, p. 246)
the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms…
“The rulers and authorities before whom this object lesson of divine wisdom is displayed… probably include the whole host of heavenly beings, good and bad alike…” (O’Brien, p. 246-7)“Throughout the ages good angels have tried to decipher God’s plan (1Pet.1:12) but were unable to do so. No doubt, evil angels also had wanted to know God’s plans…” (Hoehner, p.462)
“…this manifold wisdom of God was not the result of a last minute idea which God had.” (Hoehner, p.463)God’s eternal purpose for the church, that it serve as a school in which the angels may learn more and more of God’s marvelous wisdom has now been accomplished through his eternal purpose and will, “a will centered in the Anointed Savior, who is Lord of the entire Church Glorious, yes, our Lord.” (Hendriksen, p.161)
The word translated freedom “was first used in reference to the Athenians’ freedom of speech… It conveys openness, speaking freely, concealing nothing, boldness or candor and confidence. The basic idea is freedom to speak without restraints…However this boldness before God is not presumptuous or arrogant but humble with a sense of awe.” (Hoehner, p.465)
In him and through faith in him
Because the believer is in Christ, he can speak freely, boldly or openly to the Father.Without Christ they may shout rashly at him and go unheard but with Christ believers may speak boldly knowing that they will be heard.We are again reminded that it is only through faith in Christ that are given this access to God.
In light of all that Paul has just explained about the eternal purposes behind his ministry that resulted in his present imprisonment, he asks that his Gentile readers not be discouraged.
which are your glory.
A clear expression of this motion in relation to Paul’s ministry appears in 2 Timothy 2:10 –Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.Paul is a prisoner who serves Christ, and what he does is for the benefit of them as Gentiles; indeed it is for their final glory. (O’Brien, p.252)
Paul’s Second Prayer for the Ephesians
In beginning his prayer, Paul gives two grounds for his petitions:
For this reason - Paul’s prayer is in line with God’s purposes.Because of the things Paul has described up to this point, Paul has grounds to go before the Father and make his requests. For example:I kneel before the Father - Paul’s petitions are addressed to the heavenly FatherGod has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ. (1:3)
God has lavished on us … all wisdom and understanding. (1:8)God prepared in advance for us to do good works. (2:10)
We are fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household. (2:19)Because God is our heavenly Father we have grounds to go before him and make our requests known – expecting that he will hear us."Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. "Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! . (Matthew 7:7-11)
I kneel before the Father…
The most common posture in Jewish and early Christian prayer was standing (Mark 11:25; Luke 18:11) although it was not uncommon to kneel in prayer (Ezra 9:5; Luke 22:41, Acts 21:5). Kneeling shows great reverence and submission on the part of the one praying who feels his need so keenly that he can’t bring himself to stand upright before God. (cf. Ezra 9:5-6,15)
In ancient times, a name was not just a label – a person’s name was thought to be something that revealed the true inner nature of a person (Gen 25:26, 1Sam 25:25).After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau's heel; so he was named Jacob (=“heel grabber”) (Genesis 25:26)May my lord pay no attention to that wicked man Nabal. He is just like his name-- his name is Fool, and folly goes with him. (1 Samuel 25:25)So for God to give every family in heaven (=every group of angels) and on earth (= every human family) a name was not simply to label them, but to bring them into existence , exercise dominion over them and assign them their appropriate roles.[God] determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. (Psalm 147:4)Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. (Isaiah 40:26)
The Body of Paul’s Prayer – Paul Prays That:
16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17a so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.
Paul’s first petition is a prayer for power.We have seen before where Paul prayed for power for his readers.I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know … his incomparably great power for us who believe. (Ephesians 1:18-19)
strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being
Paul asks that this power be produced in them by the Holy Spirit.And Paul prays that this power might strengthen them in their “inner being”.
As we grow old our outer bodies are gradually wasting away.Our “inner being” is the part of us that is left when our bodies have completely wasted away!Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly [= “inner being”]we are being renewed day by day. (2 Cor. 4:16b)Our physical bodies continue to deteriorate - Some day we will receive a new resurrection body but until then it is our inner being that is being strengthened by God’s power.
so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.Paul prays that their inner being might be strengthened by God’s power so that Christ may dwell in their hearts through faith.In one sense, Christ already indwells every believer through his Spirit from the moment they are saved. ( cf. Eph 1:13, 2:22)The word translated “dwell” is a strong word that means to “reside, or settle down”.So Paul’s prayer is that God’s power will work in us in such a way that Christ will become more and more “at home” in us.
Some “Renovations” that Will Make Christ More “at Home” in Your Inner Being (Col. 3:5-17)
5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.
9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. 12 Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. 15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you
Where do the resources to answer Paul’s prayer come from?They come out of God’s glorious riches!What are these glorious riches that Paul is relying on?These glorious riches are the things that God has already secured for us because of Christ:And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19)
So the supply of God’s “glorious riches in Christ Jesus” is as lavish as the benefits secured by Christ… To doubt the provision God has made for us is to doubt the provision God has secured in his Son. It is far wiser to understand and believe that God who has already so lavishly blessed us in his Son has no less lavish reserves of power to pour out on us as he brings us to Christian maturity. (Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation, p.189)
Like the first petition, this one is a prayer for power – in this case, he asks that they receive the power to grasp the limitless dimensions of Christ’s love.
being rooted and established in love
Paul does not mean to suggest that his readers have never before known God’s love for them in Christ Jesus. Far from it: he knows they are Christians, and therefore acknowledges that they have been rooted and established in love (v.17) (Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation, p.190)
And I pray that you ... may have power... to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ
What is amazing about Paul’s prayer is that he assumes that his readers, even though they are Christians, do not adequately appreciate the love of Christ!
This is not a prayer that we might love Christ more (though that is a good thing to pray for); rather it is a prayer that we might better grasp his love for us. This cannot be merely an intellectual exercise. (Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation, p.191)
to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge
Paul’s description of the knowledge he desires for them to have of Christ’s love moves beyond mere intellectual understanding.
Paul resorts to metaphor, and then to paradox. His metaphor is linear measure… His paradox is more stunning yet. (Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation, p.192)
that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Paul wants us to better understand the limitless dimensions of Christ’s love. “But why? Why does he think this is so important? He tells us: … that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation, p.195)
“To be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God is simply a Pauline way of saying, ‘to be all that God wants you to be,’ or ‘to be spiritually mature.’” (Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation, p.195)
“Do you see the stunning implication? Paul assumes that we can not be spiritually mature as we ought unless we receive power from God to enable us to grasp the limitless dimensions of the love of Christ.” (Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation, p.195)
“It is wonderful to revel in the love of God. Truly to experience that love, to live in the warmth of its glow, invests all life with new meaning and purpose… Forgiving others becomes almost natural, because we ourselves, thanks to God’s immeasurably rich love, have been forgiven so much. Others despise us, but that makes little difference if God loves us.” (Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation, p.197)
“How shall trouble or sorrow or bereavement drive us into macabre despair, when we can say with Paul, ‘Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?’ (Rom. 8:35). Our speech, our thoughts, our actions, our reactions, our relationships, our goals, our values – all are transformed if only we live in the self-conscious enjoyment of the love of Christ.” (Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation, p.197)
together with all the saints
“We should not think that Paul is advocating some kind of Lone Ranger Christianity… It is hard to imagine any individual Christian growing in this regard yet unconcerned about fellow believers.” (Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation, p.198)
In this concluding doxology, Paul gives us incentive and encouragement to bring our own requests to God for he is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.
“God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, not only because he is powerful but also because he is generous. He loves to give good gifts to his children. To think of God in any other way is to demean him; to think of God in this way is itself tantamount to a call to pray.” (Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation, p.202)
The ultimate purpose of Paul’s prayer is that God will be glorified in the church and in Jesus Christ.
For here surely is the final and deepest test of our prayer: “Has God become so central to all our thoughts and pursuits, and thus to our praying, that we cannot easily imagine asking for anything without consciously longing that the answer bring glory to God?” (Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation, p.203)