Readers may notice that I’ve skipped all of chapter 2. Don’t worry. I’ll fill in the gap. But I’ve just got to prepare tomorrow’s Sunday school lesson. I’ve been traveling the last two weeks, and my able, accomplished substitute teacher made it all the way to the end of chapter 2 without me. But I don’t have time to type up thoughts on chapter 2 (one of my all-time favorite passages) just now, but I’ll get back to it.
(Eph 3:1-3 ESV) For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles — 2 assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly.
“For this reason” is a reference back to the concluding verses of chapte 2, in which Paul celebrates the unification of Jews and Gentiles through the grace of God made available through faith rather than works. The point Paul was making in chapter 2 is not just salvation by faith rather than works, but that this kind of salvation allows God to incorporate the nations into Israel.
(Eph 2:14-16 ESV) 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.
Paul then refers to his ministry — “stewardship” or trusteeship — of God’s grace, revealed to Paul by revelation. This is his purpose as an apostle, that is, to teach the gospel to call the Gentiles into the Kingdom.
(Eph 3:4-5 ESV) 4 When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.
The “mystery” of Christ is the gospel that he’d just summarized in chapter 2. While the Old Testament prophets had said much about this gospel, they didn’t enjoy the fullness of revelation. It had been a mystery, but it’s now revealed. It had been hinted at, but now the gospel is available to all.
(Eph 3:6 ESV) 6 This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
Today, we think that the mystery is faith through grace. But Paul declares the mystery now revealed to be the unification of Jews and Gentiles. This is the purpose of grace — to bring the two together into a common Kingdom.
You see, “salvation” is about much, much more than having our sins forgiven. It’s about being added to an ancient community created by God for a purpose. We are saved so that we can be added to the Kingdom — a Kingdom in which we enjoy the freedom found in grace through faith, the community of fellow saints, and a shared purpose with God — to join with him, as Paul did, in redeeming the world and so building the Kingdom.
(Eph 3:7-10 ESV) 7 Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. 8 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.
Paul’s very mission was given to him to “bring to light” the “unsearchable riches of Christ” by revealing God’s “plan” — a plan God has been working “for ages.” And part of this plan is that “through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known.” You see, the mission isn’t given just to Paul. Paul is passing it on to the church to reveal God’s “manifold wisdom.”
Now, the church does this in at least two essential ways. First, the church teaches the gospel to the lost, just as Paul did. But, second, the church lives the gospel. God’s wisdom is revealed “through” the God, not “by” the church. The church, by being the church, that is, the Kingdom, shows God to be wise.
In context, of course, the key element of God’s wisdom the church must live is therefore unity — and we’ll see Paul’s thoughts head further in that direction over the next several verses. It’s the unity of unlikes — Jews and Gentiles, all nations into one Kingdom — that shows God to be wise and reveals the truth of God’s ancient plan. A disunited church, therefore, lives in contradiction ot the gospel. Indeed, disunity denies the gospel.
“Rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” is less than transparent to the modern eye! One day I really need to do a series on God’s Rivals: Why Has God Allowed Different Religions? Insights from the Bible and the Early Church. It’s an unusual book, but it does a great job of explaining what these kinds of passages are talking about.
You see, the ancients believed that each nation had its own god. Indeed, each city in the Empire had a patron god or goddess considered the particular protector of that community. And this idea was believed by the nations that surrounded the Roman Empire as well. And many Old Testament passages borrow imagery from this concept — without necessarily endorsing the view. “Most High God” is a title saying that God is God above all other gods — a form of expression that spoke powerfully to the ancient mind.
Thus, Paul seems to be saying that the uniting of all nations into the Kingdom of God will demonstrate to all false gods that God is the One True God, God Most High, and God of all nations. Unity will destroy the pretensions of the false gods who only claim to rule the world (but who have the loyalty of the world).
Evangelism, therefore, becomes a contest between the One True God and all pretenders, all idols, and all false gods. The Kingdom destroys the claims of all others to the loyalty of people, and conversion means a change of loyalty from false gods to the One True God.
We modern people don’t think in these terms, and yet it’s true that conversion means conversion from idolatry to the worship of the One True God. Therefore, we leave behind our worship of Mammon and loyalties to all who compete against God. There is no balancing of other interests with loyalty to God. It’s God and God alone. No other loyalty is allowed, because Jesus is “Lord of lords.”
We love our families, but we love them because God has called us to be Christian, godly parents, siblings, and children, not because family loyalty can compete with loyalty to God.
(Luk 14:26 ESV) 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”
And if our love for Jesus must overwhelm our love for our own families, the same is true of love for ethnic group, nation, and culture. We aren’t Christians first and Americans second. We are Christians only. What we feel and do for our country must come from our relationship with Christ. It’s not “God and country.” It’s God — and the pursuit of his mission to unite all nations into a single Kingdom. And the Kingdom is our country. We are strangers and aliens in all other lands.
(1Pe 2:11 ESV) 11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.
We don’t much feel or act like exiles in this country. But one purpose of the gospel is to defeat the pretensions of everyone who claims our loyalty — other than God. We need to consider our loyalties very carefully.
(Eph 3:11-13 ESV) 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. 13 So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.
The “eternal” purpose, that is, purpose for the ages, has now been “realized” in Jesus. It has happened! And Jesus’ victory through his resurrection gives us “boldness and access with confidence” through faith. Therefore, any sound theology, the true gospel, necessarily leaves converts confident in their salvation and their relationship with God. All other gospels are pretenders.
Our confidence is found in our faith in Jesus. Not faith in a system of theology not even found in the scriptures. Not faith in a system of how to worship. Not faith in a system of how to organize the church. Our faith — and therefore our confidence — isn’t built on knowing for sure how many children an elder must have. That’s arrogance and foolishness, because it’s faith in our arguments and favorite preacher. No, the faith that leads to confidence — true faith — is faith in Jesus. Our confidence is in Jesus — that he will be faithful to honor his promises to us, and that God will honor his covenant with Abraham to bless the nations by counting faith as righteousness.