Ephesians Study 9: Mystery Revealed

Hello, TYM! Here is the next installment of our look at Ephesians.

Teaching Text: Ephesians 3:1-13

3 For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner of 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. 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. 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. 

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. 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 Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Eph 3:1–13). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Right from the start of the letter, Paul is building a narrative about a larger existence that eventually culminates at the end of the letter when he discusses our role in spiritual warfare. Some of what Paul says in this passage calls back to the beginning of the letter as we start to see a transition from the theologically-heavy first half into the more missionally-focused second half of the book.

Mystery

Paul directly pulls back the curtain on the “mystery” of gospel, a term he used in Ephesians 1:9-10. 

9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 

 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Eph 1:9–10). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

For your own review, take a look back at the end of Lesson 2 where Jeff elaborates more on these verses. Also review Lesson 3 where we talked about predestination as it very quickly and succinctly summarizes the “plan” as mentioned in 1:10.

Now as we get to chapter 3, Paul returns to this idea of the mystery and uses the term three times (v3, v5 and v6). Almost as if it’s the end of a “whodunnit mystery story,” Paul is finally ready to solve the big mystery and reveal the answer, which he does in verse 6.

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. 

 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Eph 3:6). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

It’s easy to take this for granted 2,000 years later, but this idea that Gentiles and Jews were now united as members of the same body flew in the face of thousands of years of upbringing and the understanding of the Law given to Moses. Paul really is making a bold claim that the God of the Isrealites has adopted all people in Christ through the gospel. It would fly in the face of all understanding of who the God of the Jews was.

Paul is proving this to be true using two methods.

First, he has called on God to reveal this to them through a reminder of their own history. After setting up the mystery in chapter 1, he asks God to open the eyes of their hearts (1:18) readying them for spiritual encounters and power. Then, Paul moves into explaining what God has done for them. He reiterates that they were dead in sin (2:1-3) and that they were strangers to the covenant (2:12). But through Christ they have grace (2:4-5) and they are now not just fellow citizens (2:19) but a dwelling place for God by the Spirit (2:22).

The Ephesians are changed by God’s grace and the power of the Spirit. Francis Chan says, “If the Holy Spirit dwells within you, a number of things should be part of your life.” (Chan, Forgotten God, p 74) Paul had spent three years with the church at Ephesus. The first two chapters weren’t meant as fresh teachings of the gospel to unbelievers (though certainly some could have benefitted in that way and many have in the centuries since), but reminders about how God has transformed them. A transformation that would not be possible without this mystery being true.

Second, Paul gives his supernatural credentials by revealing how he learned the mystery. In verse 3, Paul mentions that the mystery was made known to him by revelation. While we don’t get the full story here in Ephesians, the implication is that they had already heard this story. Fortunately, we get a retelling of Paul’s conversion story in Acts 22 that comes with extra about the revelation.

17 “When I had returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance 18 and saw him saying to me, ‘Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about me.’ 19 And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves know that in one synagogue after another I imprisoned and beat those who believed in you. 20 And when the blood of Stephen your witness was being shed, I myself was standing by and approving and watching over the garments of those who killed him.’ 21 And he said to me, ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ ” 

 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 22:17–21). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Whether this is the specific event or just one of others Paul refers to in Ephesians 3, we don’t know for certain. However, what we do know is that God had to send visions to his followers to move them towards accepting the mission of going into the other nations. Take a look at Acts 10 for a story about Peter having a vision.

This stark change in understanding of God’s plan had to be revealed supernaturally, both through the in-dwelling of the Spirit and also visions from above, especially in light of the fact the New Testament was incomplete in both writing and certainly in no way ready for compilation. We can look back on the entirety of God’s Word now and see his full plan, but we also can’t deny the power of the Spirit as evidence today. We will get more into this next lesson.

Stewardship

Paul couches this explanation of the mystery between descriptions of his own mission. In verse 2, Paul uses the phrase “stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you.” What does that mean to then be stewards of God’s grace? What is a steward? The Greek word for “stewardship” in that verse is the same as the word translated “plan” in chapter 1, verse 10. This Greek word can also mean “household management” or administration. Your schools are run by an administration. The principals and other staff manage the school and prepare the students for how best to learn.

Above, we talked about the vision Paul had where he was being sent to the Gentiles. Paul has taken ownership of this mission to preach to the Gentiles (3:8). He was to administer God’s grace to the Gentiles.

What about us? After being reminded of God’s grace, we see in Ephesians 2:10 that God has prepared good works for us and that we should walk in them. And in Ephesians 4:7, we read (and will talk more about in a future lesson) that grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.

Jesus tells a story about a man who left some money in the charge of some of his servants in Matthew 25.

14 “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here, I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 

 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 25:14–30). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

The servant who was given just one talent was afraid and did nothing with it. The end result was being cast out. But we don’t have to be afraid. “[W]e have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him” (v12) so we don’t have to hide our talent away. We can boldly share the gift of grace we have with no fear of repercussion from God.

One pair of writers put it this way:

The gospel is entrusted to us. We get to partner with God in living out, enjoying, and sharing this good news with others.

Tyson and Silk, Kingdom Values, 23

They further explain:

When we ask the question “what is my purpose on earth?” we can confidently say that it is to make disciples and bring God’s kingdom to every sector of society and every part of our world.

Tyson and Silk, Kingdom Values, 67

Even if there is earthly suffering, as Paul references in verse 13, our suffering is for a greater purpose.

That feels easier said than done, right? Well, the next part of chapter 3 gives us one of the most encouraging passages in the entire Bible. We’ll see an invitation for God’s power to further strengthen us. Look for that in the next lesson.

Carlin