Today: [Ephesians 3:] Eternal Purposes Revealed: In Eph. 3 Paul declares much of the profound revelation disclosed to him in the years before his public ministry began. His words are confrontational and controversial in the extreme. Nonetheless, he writes without hesitation, encouraging the Ephesians to dare to accept the implications of Calvary in choosing them as the church of God to be the instrument of God’s glory in the earth.
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[Eph 3:1-21 KJV] 1 For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, 2 If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: 3 How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, 4 Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) 5 Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; 6 That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel: 7 Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power. 8 Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; 9 And to make all [men] see what [is] the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: 10 To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly [places] might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, 11 According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord: 12 In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him. 13 Wherefore I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory. 14 For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, 16 That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; 17 That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 May be able to comprehend with all saints what [is] the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; 19 And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. 20 Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, 21 Unto him [be] glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.
In chapter 3 Paul discloses in greater detail things that God revealed to him regarding the mysteries of the kingdom that up to this point he has not fully described. He wants the Ephesians to be more aware of his knowledge of what he calls “the mystery of Christ” that was withheld for 1000’s of years but it now made known not only to himself but to all his “holy apostles and prophets” by the Spirit of God. Some would take this as an indication that Paul considered the new faith to be a “mystery religion.” These were very much in evidence in the first centuries of the church under the general heading of Gnosticism.
Gnosticism was not descriptive of any one group but rather a subset of the Christian faith that believed that redeeming grace was received primarily through the disclosure of mystery teachings and revelations taught by their leading proponents. The apostles fought strongly against the beginning of this movement and even at that Gnosticism lingered into the fourth and fifth centuries, at one point threatening to engulf the whole of the church until the faith was codified by the councils conducted under the authority of Constantine. It is important to make a note of because in Christianity today much emphasis is made upon doctrine as the means of receiving salvation. In other words “I am saved because I believe certain doctrines or sets of doctrines…” Doctrine is certainly important, but doctrine does not save us. Salvation is brought about by the new birth experience as Jesus articulated to Nicodemus “you must be born again…” We are not born again by virtue of a teaching or accepting a proposed truth. We are born again according to Rom. 10:10 by believing in our heart that God raised Jesus from the dead and confessing openly and verbally that Jesus is Lord of our lives.
What is Paul’s great mystery? He speaks from a Jewish perspective in revealing this. The secret hidden until his time is that the Gentiles (non-Jewish people groups) are now fellow heirs of salvation through Jesus Christ. In other words, the redemption planned by God and foreshadowed in the law and the prophets is not a Jewish-only consideration. This was very controversial because Jewish hatred and bigotry toward non-Jews ran extremely deep at this time in history thanks to the scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees, the very same elitist leadership who colluded in and rejoiced at the crucifixion of Jesus.
This message of inclusion is in Paul’s understanding the entire encapsulation of the calling of God upon his life (v. 8). Paul’s mandate is to preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ. This is an interesting admission because throughout his life Paul continued to return to the Jewish people and specifically to Jerusalem which eventually led to his imprisonment and death. Paul’s longing (v. 9) is that all men see the fellowship of the mystery not only that the Gentiles are included in the redemptive plan of heaven but that Jesus (recently crucified) is in truth the Messiah and not just the Messiah as a human deliverer but God in the flesh by whom all things in heaven and earth are created. As believers, we accept these things without question, but in Paul’s day, these statements were fantastic and against everything both Jews and Gentiles held as their own personal beliefs in their respective cultures.
This message – the message of the supremacy of Christ is being brought forth (v. 10) to the intent that now to the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be made known by the church the manifold wisdom of God. Here again, we read some very confrontational statements. These principalities and powers were understood by pagans who heard these things to be the very gods and goddesses that they worshipped. They are understanding Paul to say that Jupiter, Diana, and the other gods whose temples stood abundantly throughout their cities were to be displaced and subjugated not just by an idea or a philosophy but by the church – by a newly emerged sect of Judaism populated by the poor, the wretched and the rejected of the earth. This would have been extraordinarily offensive both to Jews and to Greeks throughout the ancient world.
Paul realized that his words would be offensive to his detractors and also very intimidating even to believers. For this reason, he calls on the Ephesians to accept this newfound faith with boldness, confidence, and faith not because everyone was happy about it or because society would be tolerant of them. Instead, we are to have courage, confidence, and faith because we have access to God that isn’t controlled or metered by some pantheon of intermediaries personified in the pagan gods of the Gentile nations or the Jewish religion either. By this statement, Paul is completely nullifying pagan religious beliefs and corrupt Judaism as nothing more than superstitions and the Christian faith as the one true path to God not by virtue of a new set of teachings but rather by the person and sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ whom both the Jews and the Romans had put to death.
Paul’s words are breathtaking for the Ephesians to read and he exhorts them to “faint not” because they have heard the reports of his suffering at the hands of the Jews and the Gentiles who were incited by his bold proclamation of the kingdom, the very things he is writing to them in this letter. Their great concern no doubt is that Paul having committed these things to writing and sending the message to their city was bringing that same persecution to their door by identifying them with his beliefs. Paul not only admits that he has suffered for the gospel but declares (v. 13) that his suffering is for the purpose of magnifying their own testimony of God’s sovereignty through the church. For this reason (v. 14) By these statements Paul is declaring that he is looking not just for one or two allies but for an entire church to stand boldly and unapologetically in the proclamation of the faith as he articulates it that is so profoundly and universally detested in the ancient world. Paul says he bows his knees to ask the Father to strengthen the Ephesians (v. 16) with might by His Spirit in their inner man that they might have faith to fully accept and comprehend the cause for which he has suffered so much.
Paul’s admits that the challenge has been great but can only be comprehended in the context of the profound revelation of the breadth, length, depth, and height of God’s love whereby He chose in His sovereignty to fill us as mere humans with the fullness of Himself making us his very temple. It is true that the world at large will never tolerate anything they are not a willing part of but what is that when we are indwelled by our God who is able to do exceedingly, abundantly above all we ask or think not by an outside or “otherly” agency – but by the power of God that works in us? When he says “works in us” Paul isn’t just speaking of the individual but the church as a whole. In Paul’s thinking, it is a foregone conclusion that there is no such thing as a detached or isolated Christian in whom is not a living, vital connection with the body of Christ. The church as we know it would leave Paul aghast at its fragmented, divided, anemic and scattered condition. Paul’s understanding (v. 21) is that not just through individuals but through the church, the family of God the body of Christ in the earth would be known and disclosed the glory and majesty of God not just now but through the ages world without end. The question would be for us – is our church or church as we know it a descriptor of the church as Paul comprehends it? If not then why not? What can we do differently? What are we willing to do differently or think differently that we might somehow become so connected to one another in Christ that this church that Paul describes might come into evidence in our lives and in the earth?
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