“You have heard of the grace of God with which He has entrusted me for your benefit. This is why I, Paul, am the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles. By direct revelation His hidden truth was made known to me, which I have already briefly referred to. When you read this you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ. This is the truth not disclosed to past generations but is now revealed to His holy apostles and prophets by the Holy Spirit: the Gentiles are joint-heirs, fellow-members of the promises of Christ, and partakers with us of the Good News. By God’s grace I was called to minister, being equipped by His effectual power.” (paraphrased)
The phrase “for this reason” connects this passage with Paul’s thoughts in the previous two chapters concerning the inclusion of the Gentiles. In the first chapter, he meditates on the abundant blessings God has bestowed universally through Christ. In chapter two, he further develops the theme of His great redemptive plan. In chapter three, the apostle begins to unfold God’s determination to mold Jewish and non-Jewish Believers into one body.
As Paul pens this letter, he is in a Roman prison. More than five years of his strenuous ministerial career will be spent behind bars in various locations (Acts 28: 30-31). But his restrictions are ordained by God and consequently lend credibility to his claim of apostleship. Because he understands the divine purpose behind his troubles, he is ready for execution, jail time, or acquittal. Paul regards himself as incarcerated for Christ’s sake and the sake of others. He is neither a victim of Roman law, nor of Jewish prejudice. Because his sufferings are vicarious and purposeful, he accepts his chains as God’s will for his life. He inevitably mentions his imprisonment in connection with the reason for it:
<> He sees himself as “the prisoner of the Lord” (Eph. 4:1)
<> Paul considers himself “an ambassador in bonds” (Eph 6:20)
<> He points out his “bonds in Christ are manifest throughout the palace” (Phil. 1:13)
<> The Apostle notes that “the mystery of Christ is the cause of my bonds” (Col. 4:3)
<> Paul writes to Philemon, affirming Onesimus “ministered to me while I was in bonds for the gospel” (Philemon 1:13)
Shortly after Paul’s encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus, the Lord informs Ananias of Paul’s mandate (Acts 9:15). The apostle immediately accepts his assignment as the designated messenger to the non-Jewish world. He affirms this by stating the Lord informed him of this task personally (13:47). He mentions this fact on several occasions:
<> “I am the apostle to the Gentiles” (Rom. 11:13)
<> “I…the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles” (Rom. 15:16)
<> “…the apostleship…in me to the Gentiles” (Gal. 2:8)
<> “I am ordained…a teacher of the Gentiles” (I Tim. 2:7)
The Ephesians are well aware of the reason for Paul’s imprisonment. It was his association with an Ephesian named Trophimus that led to a false allegation resulting in his capture and punishment (Acts 21:29). They were aware the Ephesian rulers attributed the ensuing riot to Paul (v. 30-33). In essence, the cause of his incarceration is his determination to take the Gospel to the Gentiles. Paul does not mention his bonds to illicit sympathy, but to let his readers know he is there on their behalf. The apostle feels it is better to be chained for Christ than unchained without Him.
“If” in the English language usually indicates uncertainty, but here it expresses assurance. The term “if” here (KJV) might be better translated “since” or “because”. Due to his previous extended ministry in Ephesus, Paul assumes the Gospel message has spread throughout the region.
The “dispensation” (oikonomia) refers to the managerial position of a trusted servant. Paul considers his appointment and commission to be a gracious gift from God. The Lord’s grace is further evidenced by allowing Paul the opportunity to teach the hitherto untold mystery of Gentile inclusion (I Cor. 9:16-18).
Paul here references his previous thoughts regarding his insight into this great mystery (musterion). A musterion is not incomprehensible, but something which has not yet been revealed. This term refers to a truth which would have remained unknown had it not been revealed by the One who was the source of it. It is not redemption that is mysterious, only the final destination of redemption. God had preordained from time immemorial that Gentiles and Jews alike can be adopted into His family.
“Revelation” (apokalupsis) is a Greek term often used for the unveiling of a piece of his artwork. It refers to that which cannot be discovered by the human mind. God’s magnanimous plan of salvation is unfathomable even by angels (I Pet. 1:1-12).
With never a trace of self-aggrandizement, Paul consistently affirms this knowledge was acquired supernaturally (Gal. 1:11-12). It was neither imparted to him through human instruction nor was it a product of his own intellect. This powerful truth is transmitted to Paul through visions (Acts 16:9 & 26:16). But exactly how God communicated this to him is far less important than the content of His communication. That which was formerly a mystery is now made manifest to the entire world.
Although the foundational revelation of this mystery is presented in verses 1-3, further explanation is necessary (vv. 4-6). Paul trusts the Ephesians will comprehend the universal message with which God has entrusted him. He believes they will perceive the meaning of his words, apply them, and grow spiritually. By sharing the Gospel with the Gentiles, the apostle affirms the need to obey the command of Jesus to “teach all nations” (Mt. 28:19). Prior to the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, this world-wide commission was difficult for the disciples to comprehend (Acts 1:6).
Complete disclosure of this mystery was not possible under the former dispensation. Regarding the mission of the Messiah, Old Testament prophets could only vaguely conceive of the dissolution of the old theocracy. “The prophets searched diligently, hoping to comprehend God’s redemptive purpose” (I Pet. 1:10). With the arrival and constant availability of the Holy Spirit, New Testament ministers can understand and implement God’s global evangelistic plan (Acts 2:17-21).
Paul never claims to exclusively possess this revelation. Men like Philip receive it as well (Acts 8:35-38). The reception of the Holy Spirit by Gentiles helps convince Peter of Gentile inclusiveness, although it takes a special vision from God to completely convince him (Acts 10: 34-35).
Salvation through Christ is directly available to Gentiles without “becoming Jews” through proselytization. Paul further defines this former mystery by stating three ways in which Gentiles are an intimate part of God’s plan:
1. They are equals as heirs (sunkleronoma) along with the Jews.
2. They are equals as members (sunsoma) of Christ’s Church.
3. They are equal as partakers (summetocha) of His promises.
God views His Church as one elect race, one royal priesthood, and one holy nation (I Pet. 2:9). Christ eternally unifies all Believers, regardless of ethnicity, culture, politics, gender, or social status (Gal. 3:28).
Paul always gives God the credit and the glory for his ministerial success. Two words are used to describe his abilities. “Effectual working” (energeian) is term from whence the English word “energy” is derived. His calling is “accord to God’s mighty power” (dunamis) and our word “dynamite” evolved from this term.
Paul regards himself as a “minister” (diakonos), designating “an individual who serves tables.” Jesus uses this word regarding Himself when He says, “I am among you as one who serves” (Lk. 22:27). Paul does not view himself as one ministering in his own strength: the One who called him has also enabled him.
Paul expresses gratitude for his divine apostolic calling in the opening remarks of several epistles (Rom. 1:1 & I Cor.1:1). He refers to himself as “an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God” (II Cor. 1:1). Although other apostles affirm his commission, he was not elected to fill this position by the consensus of some “apostolic committee.”
Paul’s eagerness to carry the Gospel to heathen nations is astounding, considering his former strong prejudices as a Pharisee. Even more amazing is the fact his writings have effectively shaped Christian theology more than any other source.
The Roman Empire, which eventually crumbled through its own corruption, sought to hold Paul captive. However, his epistles have survived the fall of that nation and continue to bless millions to the present day.
Points to Ponder:
1. How does Paul refer to himself in Philemon 1:9?
2. How does Paul describe himself in II Timothy 1:8 & 2:9?
3. What was the final mandate of Jesus (Mark 16:15)?
4. What does Paul affirm when he is brought before Agrippa (Acts 26:17)?
5. What does Jesus Himself tell Ananias three days after Paul’s conversion (Acts 9:15)?
6. With what is Paul entrusted (Gal. 2:7)?
7. What does Paul consider himself to be (I Cor. 4:1)?
8. What does Paul say and do in Acts 18:6?
9. Paraphrase Galatians 3:28.
10. Read Matthew 15:21-26. In that way does this event serve as an object lesson for His disciples?