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Study Guide Prepared by: John McVay

Key Texts: Eph 3:1-21

Key Questions

  1. Eph 3:10 provides something a bit unusual, a “job description” for the church. How would you paraphrase the church’s task? How might we go about accomplishing it?
  2. Eph 3:13 may come as close to a “purpose statement” as Paul provides in the letter. What worry might well motivate the letter?
  3. In his prayer report (Eph 3:14-19), Paul reports his prayer request for wonderful, spiritual assets. Which means the most to you (or which do you need the most) just now?
  4. The last half of our passage, Eph 3:14-21, presents us with a problem that looms large for Ephesians as a whole: How do we bridge the considerable gap between Paul’s idealistic gospel (e.g., “strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being,” Eph 3:16; “filled with all the fullness of God,” Eph 3:19) and the reality of our humanity and sinfulness?

How is Eph 3:1-21 structured?

  • The Introduction (Eph 3:1): Paul begins to express the reason for his prayers on behalf of the Ephesian believers.
  • The Lengthy Interruption (Eph 3:2-13): He interrupts that thought with as “aside,” an autobiographical reflection on the “the mystery of Christ” entrusted to him and his calling to ministry.
  • The Prayer Report (Eph 3:14-19): He then returns to discuss the reason for his prayers.
  • The Doxology (Eph 3:20-21): He concludes with a doxology.

What is the purpose of Ephesians? Paul’s mention of his worry about the addressees “losing heart” (Eph 3:13) helps us identify the letter’s purpose, why he wrote it. Paul writes to raise the addressees’ vision of their Christian identity by exalting what it means to be part of the church. The church plays a central and integral role in actualizing the unity Christ won at the cross (Eph 2:14–16; 3:10), which unity constitutes God’s ultimate, eschatological plan for the cosmos (Eph 1:10). Paul urges them to recognize that they are part of the church, which is sustained by the power of God, relativizing all names and powers to the omniscient and exalted Jesus (Eph 1:20–23). This purpose gains urgency in view of Paul’s imprisonment, which could prove discouraging (noting Paul’s direct appeal in Eph 3:13).

What is “the mystery of Christ,” Eph 3:4? Paul uses the word “mystery” (Gk, mystērion) three times in Eph 3:1-13 (Eph 3:3, 4, 9; cf. Eph 1:9; 5:32; 6:19). The term refers to something revealed by God to at least some people. Though inexplicable apart from divine revelation, it has become an “open secret” that offers insight into God’s plan. Paul may use the term with an evangelistic eye toward the “mystery religions” with initiation rituals and disclosed secrets initiates were forbidden to share. For Paul, the real “mystery,” the only one with any true and lasting value, is the one revealed in Jesus Christ.

What do we learn about “the mystery of Christ” in our passage?

  • It was revealed to Paul and to the “holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (Eph 3:3–4).
  • Paul has already written about this mystery in the earlier segments of Ephesians (Eph 3:3). So, Eph 1:1–2:22 (and especially Eph 2:11–22) help to define the plan of salvation understood as “the mystery.”
  • It was not revealed in its fullness to “the sons of men in other generations” (Eph 3:5).
  • While it does not use the Greek word for “mystery,” Eph 3:6 offers the clearest definition: The “mystery of Christ” (Eph 3:4) or “the mystery of the gospel” (Eph 6:19) is “that the Gentiles are fellow heirs [with Jewish believers], members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” The grand mystery Paul describes is this: The full inclusion of Gentile believers in the gospel and in the church.
  • It was Paul’s mission to preach the gospel (“the unsearchable riches of Christ”) to the Gentiles and to reveal this mystery to all (Eph 3:7–9).
  • Paul’s success would help trigger a wider revelation of the mystery by the church “to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Eph 3:10).

How valuable is the Christian’s right to exercise “boldness and access with confidence” in coming to God (Eph 3:12)? “We have no need to be abashed, if we approach the Divine Majesty with a true faith in Christ. His name gives the sinner access to the holiest place. The cherubim sheathe their swords of flame. The heavenly warders at this passport open the golden gates. We ‘come unto Mount Sion, the city of the living God, and to an innumerable company of angels’ [Heb 12:22]. Not one of these mightinesses and ancient peers of heaven … would wish or dare to bar our entrance” (G. G. Findlay, The Epistle to the Ephesians [New York: Ray Long & Richard R. Smith, 1931], 177).

What three prayer requests does Paul make on behalf of believers? (Eph 3:14-19) [Note: Each prayer request is marked by the use of the Greek conjunction hina, “in order that,” “that”]

Paul’s first prayer request (Eph 3:16-17) asks God to grant the believers in Ephesus an abundant spiritual experience, one marked by inner strength through the Spirit’s presence (“strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being,” Eph 3:16 ESV), intimacy with Christ who is also portrayed as dwelling within (“that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith,” Eph 3:17), and a settled, secure spiritual identity (“rooted and grounded in love,” Eph 3:17). N.B.: Christ does not just come for an occasional visit, but lives/dwells/resides with believers who have the privilege of sharing life with the One who has been elevated to the throne of the cosmos (Eph 1:20–23; 2:4–6).

Paul’s second prayer request (Eph 3:18-19a) invites fresh understanding for the addressees as “strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.”

Paul’s third prayer request (Eph 3:19b) is succinct, summing up the intent of his prayers: “that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

Looking back over chapter three, how might we apply its message devotionally? One way is to imagine the aged, imprisoned Apostle Paul, who is arguably the greatest Christian missionary and leader of all time, mentoring us in Eph 3:1-21. Offering a critique of the usual world of résumés and interviews, Paul offers an upside-down résumé that provides important principles for living a life of significance:

  • True success is all about getting caught up in the grand plan of God. God is calling you into His great project—to unify all things in Christ (Eph 3:1-6, cf. 1:9-10).
  • Don’t just tune in to your own passion. Listen for God’s call (Eph 3:1-6).
  • True success is all about getting caught up in the grand plan of God. God is calling you into His great project—to unify all things in Christ (Eph 3:1-6, cf. 1:9-10).
  • The best opportunities are not earned based on your own merit. They are gifts of God’s grace (Eph 3:7-8)
  • The scope of God’s plan for you is vast. He imagines you engaged in cosmic leadership (Eph 3:10).
  • Don’t work for a boss. Join the family business. Work for your Father (Eph 3:14).
  • Be sure to choose a powerful Mentor who will provide you with everything you need (Eph 3:14-19).

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