God’s Mystery: The Universal Fellowship

November 5, 2005

Read: Eph. 3:1-21

Comments on Eph 3:1-21: This passage divides naturally into two parts, an autobiographical and theological defense of Paul’s ministry (3:1-12) and prayer report (3:13-19) combined with a more direct wish-prayer (3:20-21). This serves as a conclusion for the first major theological section of Ephesians and a transition to the second, exhortatory part starting in 4:1 ff.

If the previous passage of 2:11-22 is the heart of Paul’s theological message, then his autobiographical defense (3:1-12) in this passage serves as the platform to reveal the significant role that the unified community of believers plays in God’s revelation of his eternal purpose to the entire universe. It is replete with expressions referring to his ministry to the Gentiles as a divine “grace that was given to me.” At the end of 3:3 he refers back to the former passage and then states that by reading it the addressees will perceive his “understanding of the mystery of Christ.” The mystery that Paul says was previously unknown but now revealed to God’s apostles and prophets by the Spirit is namely this, the inclusion of the Gentiles among God’s chosen people.

On the face of it, this inclusion does not seem like such an earth-shattering addition of revelatory knowledge for us from our perspective in history. However, it certainly would have been for Jews and many Jewish Christians who insisted on Gentiles becoming Jews before they could be counted as Christians. As Galatians, Romans and Acts testify, this issue virtually divided early Christianity. It was a problem that was never really solved by council and consensus, however one may interpret Acts 15. 2 Corinthians 10-11 and particularly Galatians 2:11-14 show that the problem persisted. It was a problem that faded away with phenomenal expansion of Gentile Christianity and the waning of Jewish Christian communities which dribbled out into the desert regions east of the Jordan and slowly evaporated with time. Some how the inclusion of the Gentiles by grace through faith demonstrated the wisdom of God to the rulers and authorities in heavenly places (3:10). These appear again in 6:12, so that one should see them as possibly belonging to the “spiritual force of evil” mentioned there. Paul does not unpack just how this inclusion shows God’s wisdom, but the reference in 3:3 back to the previous passage most likely provides the key. The concluding line of the autobiographical defense returns to the motif of “access” with “boldness and confidence.” It reminds one of Hebrews 4:16.

In the prayer report (3:16) and the wish-prayer (3:20) Paul returns to the focus on God’s power already expressed in chapter 1. Paul prays for their inner strength, indwelling of Christ, grounding in love, comprehension of the incomprehensible, i.e “the love of Christ” and for being filled with the fullness of God. It is one of the most beautiful prayers in the New Testament.

Questions to think about: How would you explain how the church demonstrates the wisdom of God to cosmic beings, whether evil or otherwise? Why do you think this demonstration is important? Is the church to play a role in the defense of God’s character? Or does this demonstration have some other goal? What is the “mystery” all about in this passage?

In 3:14-15 Paul refers to God as Father “from whom every family…takes its name.” What would that name be?

In 3:19 how does one know what surpasses knowledge? What is the “fullness of God.”

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