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Ephesians IX: The Gospel Mystery - Ephesians 3:1-7

It’s easy to forget when we read his glorious language about the triumph of Jesus over all the powers, but as chapter 3 begins and Paul starts to introduce his prayer for the Ephesians, he mentions that he’s a prisoner. And it seems that he realizes how jarring it sounds that the one who is claiming to announce a new way to world peace as a personal representative of the world’s king is an inmate, so he takes the next twelve verses to explain himself before resuming his prayer. Eph. 3:2-7 tell us how God entrusted Paul with the mystery of the gospel, and verses 7-13 describe the ministry of the mystery, Paul’s calling to spread the message to everyone.

Those two sections are summarized in verse 1: Paul is “a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles.” It’s not simply because he preaches the gospel that he’s ended up in prison, but specifically because of his ministry of preaching the Gentile-focused mystery of the gospel, which you can read about in Acts 21.

Paul breaks off his prayer in vv. 2-3 to spell out his stewardship or management of God’s grace that was given to him. Already, by describing his efforts as stewardship, Paul is shifting the focus off of himself, and onto God’s gift, and he goes on to make three quick points about this gift. First, it was given to Paul for the Gentiles by God. Paul isn’t the giver of the gift; he’s a co-recipient, called to share what he’s been given. Second, Paul didn’t invent or discover this truth; it was revealed to him by God. Third, he clarifies that he’s just been explaining the mysterious aspect of God’s gift, most likely referring to what he says in 2:11-22.

So why is Paul in prison when none of the other Jewish teachers who came to Ephesus ended up in jail? The answer has to do with the history of the mystery, which Paul gives in vv. 4-5. What Paul is preaching contains a new element that wasn’t part of the message until now. God’s earlier revelation contained hints and shadows, but God had fresh truth to communicate to His apostles and prophets. This wasn’t a message that you could find in the OT; it was communicated directly to the apostles and prophets by the Spirit.

And in verse 6, Paul clearly states what is new about God’s message: the gospel mystery is that the Gentiles are co-heirs, co-members, and co-partakers of God’s promise to His people! The gospel is that Jesus is Lord, and that salvation is found in Him alone, and the mystery of the gospel is that Jews and Gentiles share in that promised salvation as equal members of Christ’s one body.

Even to Jews who accepted Jesus as Messiah, this last phrase is astounding: Gentiles become co-heirs, co-members of the same body, partakers of the promise through the gospel! Not by becoming a Jew and keeping the law, but simply by believing the message about Jesus. This was shocking to Gentiles like the Ephesians, too: becoming a co-heir without being born into a family was possible, but it took a lot of work or money or doing some great deed. Under no circumstances did you receive a full share of the inheritance simply by believing a message!

But as v.7 states, this astonishing good news is the gift of grace that Paul was given, and his task was to spread the message far and wide, carrying the grace of forgiveness, adoption, membership, and inheritance in Christ to all who would repent and believe the gospel! In summary, Paul was given grace in order to give grace to others, and the good news is that grace is for everyone.

Paul’s final statement in v.7 is that the gift of God’s grace came to him by the working of God’s power, which helps us see how this relates to Paul the prisoner, which is what led to this digression. Looking back over these verses, we see that Paul serves on Christ’s behalf (v.1) as a steward (v.2), having been taught by revelation from God (v.3). The mystery he preaches is about Christ (v.4), and was revealed to Paul by the Spirit (v.5). Paul is simply a servant, and the gift of grace is given by God’s power (v.7).

Paul is nothing, Christ is everything. Paul the Apostle bears Christ’s authority, yes, but it’s Christ’s authority! There is divine power at work in him, but it is God’s power, not Paul’s! Therefore, it doesn’t much matter that Paul is a prisoner; Paul’s not the point! Christ is not imprisoned, and neither is the mystery of His message of salvation for the one body which is formed by faith in the gospel.

Posted on Wednesday, July 10, 2019 by CJ Bowen