Ephesians Bible Study ~ Week 5

We finished up the first half of Ephesians tonight with a great discussion on the “mystery” of Christ as well as the implications of needing strength to understand the full dimensions of Christ’s infinite love. His riches are unsearachable and His love surpasses knowledge! Amen.

Ephesians 3: 1-21

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A.      Digression #2, Intercession #2, and a Doxology

1.       Digression #2

a. God’s power at work in Paul (3:2-13)

  • This is the second digression the author uses to discuss God’s power – the first digression addressed God’s power at work in Christ and in Christians (1:20-2:22), and the second digression addresses God’s power at work in and through Christ’s apostle Paul.

2.       Intercession #2

a. Paul intercedes for the Gentiles a second time (3:14-19)

  • This time the intercession is for the Gentile readers’ empowerment, enlightenment, and filling with the Holy Spirit

3.       Doxology

a. Praising God for His power at work in Christians (3:20-21)

  • Doxology: a hymn or verse in Christian liturgy glorifying God

B.      The Text

Salutation (1:1-2)

Prayers: using the language of worship to reinforce Christian identity (1:3-3:21)

Berakah: blessing God for blessings bestowed on believers (1:3-14)

Thanksgiving: thanking God for the readers’ faith and love (1:15-16a)

Intercession 1: asking God for the readers’ enlightenment, especially that they might know God’s power at work in them (1:16b-19)

Digression 1: God’s power at work in Christ and in Christians (1:20-2:22)

Raised through Christ: victory over sin and evil powers (1:20-2:10)

Reconciled through Christ: victory over alienation (2:11-22)

Digression 2: God’s power at work in and through Christ’s apostle Paul (3:2-13)

Intercession 2: asking God for the readers’ empowerment, enlightenment, and filling with the Holy Spirit (3:14-19)

Doxology: praising God for his power at work in Christians (3:20-21)

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[3:1] For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for 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,

“For this reason” refers back to Digression #1, where Jew and Gentile are described as being a new humanity reconciled both to each other and to God through Christ. In verse 1 it appears that “Paul” is going to resume the intercessory prayer for the Gentiles that he began in 1:16b-19, but the prayer is again interrupted in verse 2 with Digression #2.

“Paul” begins the digression with the assumption that the Gentile readers in the region of Ephesus in Asia Minor have heard of him and the specific ministry to the Gentiles that has been given to him by God.

[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,

When did “Paul” write briefly about “the mystery” made known to him by revelation? He is likely referring back to 1:9‑10 (“making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for he fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”)

What does “the mystery” mean? In pre-Christian Judaism, “mystery” often referred to something hidden that is revealed by God to or through someone (cf, Dan 2:27-28)

In the New Testament, “mystery” sometimes refers to an aspect of religious tradition about which there is an element of secrecy (cf, Mark 4:11) or something in need of interpretation (cf, Romans 11:25) 

[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.

The Spirit has revealed this mystery to all of the apostles and prophets, including “Paul” who is now sharing it with the Gentiles.

 What is the Christian mystery to which “Paul” is referring? That Jews and Gentiles are now part of one body making up the household of God. This is made possible through the promises fulfilled in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

[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.

“Paul” reiterates that his mission to the Gentiles was a gift from God, although he is “the least of all the saints.” Recall that Paul refers to himself as a persecutor of the church (cf, I Cor 15:9, Gal 1:13) and a “blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent” (I Tim 1:13).

What is this mission? To “preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” and to “bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things”

Why is “Paul” preaching to the Gentiles and revealing the plan for unification of Jews and Gentiles into one body (the “mystery” as defined in verse 6)? So that “through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.”

The unification of humanity through Christ is a testimony to all heavenly powers (angels, demons, supernatural rulers and authorities) that God’s wise plans and purposes are being carried out according to His will. Even angels wouldn’t necessarily know this mystery (cf, I Pet 1:12).

[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.

 

This universal unification plan is being fulfilled according to an eternal purpose, and this purpose has been realized in Jesus Christ.

Verse 12 reiterates the notion of “access” that was first presented in 2:18 (“For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.”) This access through the cross of Christ should give us boldness and confidence in our faith.

“Paul” closes Digression #2 with what some scholars refer to as “an exercise in self-praise.” However, this self-praise is not done in an effort to be self-congratulatory. Instead, it is in the context of praising God, recognizing the purpose of ministry to the Gentiles, and raising the confidence of the new Gentile believers.

[14] For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, [15] from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, [16] that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, [17] so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith – that you, being rooted and grounded in love, [18] may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, [19] and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

After finishing his digression, “Paul” now continues the intercessory prayer begun in Chapter 1. Note that he first clarifies that he has taken the position of bowing his knees in prayer.

What is the nature of “Paul’s” prayer?

The request: that the Gentiles (“you” plural) might be strengthened with power through the Spirit in “our” inner being

The four-fold purpose of the request:

  • So that Christ may dwell in our hearts, rooting and grounding us in love
  • So that we may have strength to comprehend the breadth, length, height, and depth of Christ (or Christ’s love)
  • So that we may know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge
  • So that we may be filled with all the fullness of God

As Talbert says, “The goal is that believers be filled up to the level of the fullness of God…The empowering, indwelling, and filling are characterized by the experience of power and love. This is the primary Christian religious experience.” (Talbert, pp 102-103)

In Beth Moore’s study “A Woman’s Heart, God’s Dwelling Place” she compares the description of dimensions in v 18b with the description of the New Jerusalem in Rev 21:15-17. In those verses, the heavenly city is described as a perfect cube, having equal breadth, length, height, and depth, descending out of heaven from God and having the radiance of God’s glory.

[20] Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, [21] to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

The first half of Ephesians ends with a doxology praising God, acknowledging the power of God at work within us as Christians, and recognizing God’s glory.

The doxology ends with the Hebrew word “Amen” meaning truly, so be it, or truth.

C.      The Major Issues

1.       Wrap-up of “Ephesians Part I”

a. Ephesians falls into 2 main sections: Chs 1-3 and Chs 4-6

  • In Chs 1-3, the blessing, intercessory prayer, and digressions function to prepare the Gentile readers for the last 3 chapters where “Paul” will provide the main teaching of the letter.
  • God was first blessed for bestowing blessing on believers, God was then thanked for the Gentile readers’ faith and love, “Paul” then interceded on the Gentile’s behalf for enlightenment, empowerment, and filling with the Spirit, and the Gentiles have been reminded about God’s power at work in Christ, in Christians, and in “Paul” as a minister of the Christian “mystery.”

 Homework for Week 6:

 Read Ephesians 4:1-16 and consider the following questions:

  •  Scholars refer to 4:4 as stating the “seven unifying realities of the Christian faith. Do you agree with these realities? Do you agree that they are unifying?
  •  The language in 4:9-10 is somewhat controversial in the description of Christ as descending “into the lower parts of the earth.” Did Christ literally descend? If so, where?
  •  How do you see the diversity of gifts among Christian believers as aiding unity in the body of Christ?
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