The Function of the Church, the Mystery, Christ and the Church
In this chapter, Paul’s present position in jail and its cause are brought before us. Because he preached to the Gentiles, the Jews were angry with him. See Acts 22:21-22, Acts 13:46, and Acts 21:29. This resulted in his arrest in Jerusalem and his ultimate imprisonment in Rome, the city from which he wrote this letter. This was one of his prison epistles. A greater bondage claimed him—he was a prisoner of Jesus Christ.
Beginning at verse 2 and running through verse 13, we have a parenthesis. In Ephesians 3:14, the thought that began in Ephesians 3:1 continues. In this parenthesis, Paul explains the sources of his knowledge of what he has been revealing in chapters 1 and 2. He also reveals the purposes of God in relation to the Church. We are introduced to the stewardship of the grace of God. The dispensation mentioned here in relation to Paul was a stewardship of grace given to him that he might minister the unsearchable rights of Christ, especially to the Gentiles.
The Newness of It
The content of the chapter is the subject of new revelation. These great themes mentioned here were not taken from the Old Testament, but they came directly from God. They came to him by direct revelation. At this point, we must mention “the mystery.” There are eleven mysteries in Matthew 13. A “mystery,” in the New Testament sense, is not something mysterious, but it is truth that could not be known apart from direct revelation from God. Ephesians 3:4 says, “I write more fully now—I am thoroughly informed by God of this mystery.”
Paul was the principal channel through which God chose to reveal His eternal purposes. “For this cause, I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus, for you Gentiles.” Paul was a prisoner, because he preached the things he has just revealed. He advocated that the Gentiles were not second-class citizens, but were equal partners with the Jews in the Church of God.
Stewardship—a steward is one who is appointed to administer the affairs of another person. Paul was God’s steward; to him was given the responsibility to set forth the truth regarding the New Testament assembly. It was an unparalleled manifestation of the grace of God. A mystery was hidden from Old Testament saints, but God revealed it to me. Now I am going to explain it to you.
These great truths that he has been expounding on in previous chapters and is about to reveal had not been made known to previous generations. In the Old Testament we do not find the Church taught at all. And truth such as Paul is about to unfold is found nowhere in the Old Testament. Other apostles and prophets had a part in this revelation by the Spirit.
This verse reveals the mystery. The content is as follows:
We, Gentiles, have been made heirs together with the Jews—Fellow heirs.
We are in the body of Christ, together with the Jews—Fellow members.
We are partakers, together, of the promises of Christ—Fellow partakers.
The great sign of this dispensation is principally the baptism and indwelling of the Holy Spirit in all believers, Jews and Gentiles. The patriarchs never contemplated this in their wildest dreams. [Body—Bride—Building; see Romans 10:12.] There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon Him. Paul was the servant whom God used.
Paul, the minister of it, was the servant whom God used. He now discusses his own ministry connected with this. This ministry was an underserved gift. Paul became the principal vessel through which God revealed the mysteries hidden in His heart from eternity past. Notice here that it was not natural fitness, temperamental training or ability of which Paul had plenty. The revelation came by the grace of God.
Paul’s ministry was two-fold. Notice Paul’s humility here, “Less than the least.”
He was a minister of the Gospel.
He was a servant minister of the Church.
That I should preach the unsearchable riches of Christ tells us of his ministry in the Gospel. He speaks here of things most precious, including the boundless wealth and the unfathomable and incalculable riches of Christ. The depth and height of these riches can never be fully plumbed or scaled. His ministry to the Church would be “to make all men (Jews and Gentiles, Slave or Free) see what the fellowship of the ministry is.”
The fellowship of the mystery should read, “the sharing of the truth. The secret of it.” To make all men see, literally means, “to bring to light.” It was Paul’s ministry to bring to light, through his writings and teaching, the working out of God’s plans. Paul emphasizes that this mystery of the Church has been hidden, but notice the emphasis - it was not hidden in the Old Testament, but it was hidden in God. The mystery of the Church was a secret held in the eternal counsels of God’s heart. It was not known to anyone, but God. The secret was hidden in “God who created all things.” He created the universe, He created the ages, and He created the Church. In His great wisdom He decided to withhold our knowledge of the creation of the Church until after the first advent of Christ.
The Scope of God’s Purposes
God had already revealed this mystery to men on earth, but in this verse, we also see the tremendous extension of its revelation. We see the ministry of the Church to God’s other creatures. Through the Church, He is making His manifold wisdom known to the angelic hosts—the principalities and powers. He shows His all-embracing, multi-faceted, complex, and supreme wisdom.
Since the great truth is apparent that we are displaying God’s wisdom to superhuman intelligences, how diligent we should be to live godly, soberly and righteously before men—before God—and before the angels. Think of what we once were “in Adam” and then think of what we are “in Christ.” It is incomprehensible.
One of God’s present purposes, in connection with the mystery, is to reveal His manifold wisdom to the angelic hosts of Heaven. As the angels look at the church, they are compelled to marvel at the way God has triumphed over sin to His glory. They see how God sent heaven’s best for earth’s worst. They see how God has redeemed His enemies at enormous cost. They see how He conquered them by love, and prepared them as a Bride for His Son. They see how much glory has been brought to God and they see the blessings that have come to the Jew and the Gentile. As the angels view the Church, they see that God has been vindicated and Christ exalted. They see that Satan has been defeated and that the Church is destined to share Christ’s glory.
This mighty plan and purpose was from the ages of the ages—eternal. It is fully worked out in Christ Jesus, in His incarnation, death, resurrection, ascension, and glorification. The whole program is centered in Christ.
In this verse, God’s purpose for us in Christ is now described. “We have boldness and access with confidence by faith in Him.” The law failed entirely to bring man near to God. But we can draw near to God with boldness and confidence through faith in God through Christ.
“Wherefore I pray you not to be disheartened at the sufferings I am undergoing for your sakes.”
Paul was in prison. In light of what he has unfolded in previous chapters, the trials of this life are not worthy to be compared with the glory yet to come (see Romans 8:18 and 2 Corinthians 2:9). Paul relates the most sublime truth to the practical everyday circumstances of life.
In the New Testament, truth is never divorced from practice. Note the last three chapters of this book, as well as the format of Romans 1-8, which is doctrinal, Romans 9-11, which is dispensational, and Romans 12-16, which is practical.
The summary of this section is as follows:
The source of Paul’s doctrine regarding the Church was a revelation from God. It was the revelation of the mystery of the Church. The fact that the revelation of the Church was not seen or known in other ages equals the Old Testament. Paul’s twofold ministry in the Gospel and in the Church is mentioned. The great function of the Church as being an object lesson to heavenly ranks and orders of beings is unfolded here alone.
These verses contain the second of Paul’s great prayers in the book. The parenthesis has just concluded and he now resumes from verse 1 of this chapter. As he thought back to the revelation of chapter 2, he wrote “for this cause.” The bowing of the knees suggests earnestness, intensity, and humility in prayer. [Describe the different postures]
In Ephesians 1, Paul addressed the “God of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Here, he addresses the “Father” of our “Lord Jesus Christ.” The first title expresses the dignity of God in His counsels, plans, and purposes as they are revealed in Jesus Christ. The second title indicates family relationship.
“The Family of God” - this could also be rendered the “Fatherhood of God.” He is the Father of saints on earth and in Heaven. “Every family.” See Ironside regarding “every family.”
Here we enter the prayer proper. He asks the Lord to answer this prayer not according to our needs, but according to His riches in glory. Note the riches of His glory—vast wealth. The apostle asks three things for us:
1. He prays that we might be “strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man.” This means, “A mighty increase of strength by the Spirit in the inner man.” We know too well our weaknesses—so does the Spirit. This prayer is for the spiritual man—not the physical body. The prayer primarily would be to enable us to grasp the vast range of truth already stated, and that which is about to follow.
Chapter 2 tells us of what the Gentiles were by nature and by practice, and what they became through union with Christ. It tells us of the astonishing rise from poverty and death to riches and glory. This is unthinkable, unbelievable, and incomprehensible.
Every family - “All the saints on earth and in heaven.” All created beings, un-fallen angels, the family of Old Testament saints—the patriarchs, and the Church today in this day of grace. Then in the future there will be the glorious kingdom family. There may be dispensational distinctions but all receive life from the same person and together they adore and worship God.
2. He prays that “Christ may dwell in our hearts by faith.” Paul prays that Christ may actually live in our hearts permanently. Christ dwells in the hearts of all believers. Here he is praying that we might be more conscious of His living in our hearts. This is realized not by agonizing prayer, fasting, or crucifying the flesh—but simply by faith.
3. He prays for strength for a twofold purpose: “That ye [be] rooted and grounded in love,” having your roots deep and your foundation strong in love. “Being rooted” speaks of the vine and refers to fruit bearing. “Being grounded” speaks of stability.
To comprehend the following truths we must be rooted deeply and grounded in love. “Then we will be able to comprehend with all the saints.” Then we will be strong and fully able to grasp firmly the breadth, length, depth, and height. Some connect these dimensions with the love of Christ introduced to us in the next verse. Keeping the immediate context in mind, the Spirit would have us apply these dimensions to the breath-taking revelation of God, unfolded in the earlier chapters of the epistle.
This verse introduces us to the deep, deep love of Christ. We will need all the strength, wisdom and perception that we can muster to try to comprehend the “love of Christ that passes knowledge.” This love transcends and surpasses human understanding. The preceding requests have outlined a program of spiritual growth and development that prepares the child of God to grasp “with all the saints” what is the breadth, length, depth, and height.
“That you might be filled with all the fullness of God.” Be filled to the full with God himself. This is the climax of Paul’s prayer. Such a request leaves us speechless. How can I be filled with the fullness of God? Van Ryan once said, “You cannot fill a cup with the ocean, but you can fill it in the ocean.” We as believers can bring our empty vessels to the immense ocean of God’s fullness and fill them there.
After having shared these unsearchable riches of Christ, Paul cannot contain himself any longer and breaks into a paean of praise. In this soul-inspiring doxology he calls our attention to the fact that He is able to do infinitely beyond what we can ask or think. Our God is able to do “exceedingly,” abundantly… God’s ability goes beyond our asking and our thinking. This exceeding abundant ability can be realized personally when we are in total dependence upon God’s “power that worketh in us.”
Unto God be the glory in the Church by Christ Jesus. See Psalm 148. The Church will be the means by which praise, honor, and glory will be ascribed to God in every generation throughout the ages. This encompasses both time and eternity. A true appreciation of the glory revealed in this prayer will drive us to our knees or faces, just like Paul on the road to Damascus. It also gives us a foretaste of celestial scenes of ineffable glory where every voice will be raised in unison to praise Almighty God.
“The power that worketh in us.” This refers to the Holy Spirit who is constantly at work in our lives. Seeking to produce fruit in our lives—reproving of sin—guiding in prayer—inspiring worship—directing in service. The more we are yielded to Him, the greater will be His power flowing through us.