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Posted by Pastor Greg Allen on March 29, 2017 under AM Bible Study |

AM Bible Study Group; March 29, 2017 from Ephesians 3:1-7

Theme: Paul felt honored to ‘reveal’ the ‘mystery’ of God’s grace to the Gentiles.

(All Scripture is taken from The New King James Version, unless otherwise indicated).

Some of us love ‘mysteries’—that is to say, the literary genre. There’s a real pleasure in figuring out who the ‘who’ is and how the ‘how’ went in a good, well-written ‘who done it’.

In Ephesians 3, Paul begins to speak of the great ‘mystery’ that was the central calling of his life. But it was not a ‘mystery’ in the sense that people typically think. This is not a ‘mystery’ that any human being can figure out and solve by good detective work. Rather, a ‘mystery’—as the word is being used in the New Testament—is an aspect of God’s redemptive plan for humanity that is known only to Him, but that is revealed in due time by Him to humankind. It’s something that can only be known by God graciously allowing it be known. Paul first hinted at this particular mystery in Ephesians 1:9. And now—in 3:1-13—that mystery becomes a major theme that he explains in detail. He uses the word “mystery” three times in this section (vv. 3, 4 and 9). It is the mystery that is also mentioned by him in Colossians 1:26-27; where he speaks of it as “the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints. To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:26-27).

In verses 8-13, Paul focuses mainly on the ‘mystery’ itself that he is called to reveal to the Gentiles. But in verses 1-7, Paul begins by presenting himself as ‘the minister of this mystery’—and particularly, the great honor he felt in being given this ministry from God.

Notice first …


Paul had just been writing about the welcome God has now given to the Gentiles who believe in Jesus—that they are now “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (2:19). He is still speaking of this theme in the section before us; but in a much more personal way. He writes, “For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles—” (v. 1). Do you notice, by the way, that Paul starts a sentence here; but then doesn’t finish it? He does eventually take it up again and begins to finish it in verse 14. But first, he becomes sidetracked (in a Spirit-led way) by the great theme that has come to his heart.

Paul is, as he says, a “prisoner”. He is in jail for preaching (see 3:13; 4:1; 6:20). But he isn’t discouraged by his circumstance. And he doesn’t want his readers to be discouraged by his circumstance either. Whatever he is suffering, he’s suffering for them—and he is glad for it (3:13; also Philippians 1:12). This is par for the course for Paul; because our Lord told him it would happen (see Acts 9:15). As far as Paul was concerned, he was put in jail by men, but he was, in reality, the prisoner of Christ for the Gentiles.

And that was what got him sidetracked—momentarily—and on to the story of his appointment to ministry. It was a story he loved to tell. He wrote, “if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you” (v. 2). Notice that it was a “dispensation” or, as some translations have it, a “stewardship”. It was a sacred trust that had been given to him to administrate. But it wasn’t a burden to him. It was a great gift—a “grace”. He felt very much that it was a privilege. And it wasn’t given to him for his sake alone. It was given to him by God for those to whom he wrote. (By the way; that should be our attitude too. In ministry, we are given the privilege of using our time and energy and talents in the service of one another for the cause of Christ in some unique, particular way. We should greet whatever ministry God gives us as a “grace” from Him! If we serve Him faithfully with it, and trust Him to enable us to fulfill His purpose for us in it, we will be very grateful for it on the day when we finally stand before Him!)

So; what was this “dispensation of grace” that was given to Paul for these Gentile believers? Notice next …


It must be that they had heard of the story of Paul’s ministry. It’s found in Acts 9, 22 and 26; and he speaks in great detail of it in the first two chapters of Galatians. He assumes they knew the story; writing in verses 3-4, “how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)”. Where this previous “writing” had been made available to them is probably in Acts or in Galatians (Galatians was one of Paul’s earliest letters.) Or it may be that he had written a previous letter specifically to these Gentile believers. In any case, they had access to it; and Paul encouraged them, if they needed to, to go check it out! It must be that he loved to tell the story!

And why wouldn’t he love to tell about it? It distinguished him as one of the most privileged persons in the history of humanity. A great “mystery” from God had been made known to him “by revelation”. Paul once asserted this fact very strongly to the Galatian believers when he wrote, “But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:11-12). This certainly speaks of Paul’s delegated authority in this mystery.

Paul had a privileged position. But he was not completely alone in it. He spoke of this mystery, “which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets” (v. 5). It was hinted at in the Old Testament prophecies through the work of the Holy Spirit through the writing prophets; but not in a clear way. And finally—when the time was right—it was made very clear by the Spirit through the apostles of our Lord. (Paul’s unique place among the apostles was that he was particularly commissioned by the Lord to ‘reveal’ this ‘mystery’ to the Gentile world; see Acts 15:12; 22:21; Galatians 2:7-9.) And what is this great mystery? It’s “that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel” (v. 6). It’s the content of what Paul was speaking of in Ephesians 2:11-22. We share in Paul’s privilege today! The mystery is now revealed; and like him, we should consider it a privilege to declare the revealed mystery to others!

And note finally what Paul says to these believing Gentiles about …


When it comes to delivering a God-revealed mystery to fallen humanity, it can’t be done in human power. Paul was, of course, a very unique man—and he was uniquely suited by God’s providence to minister this mystery in such a pioneering and authoritative way. But he saw it as a mystery “of which I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of His power” (v. 7). Here “grace” is used in a different way than it was used in verse 2. There, it was the idea of a privileged gift. Here, it is more the idea of a spiritual enablement. His proclamation became effective only by the grace of God.

Paul utterly relied on the enabling power of God to help him ‘minister’ this ‘mystery’. (Think of how many letters from other prisoners stuck in a Roman prison two-thousand years ago are still being read around the world today! Clearly, Paul’s ministry was empowered by God! See also 2 Timothy 4:17.) He affirmed this power with respect to you and me too, when—in verses 20-21—he wrote; “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

* * * * * * * * * *

What a privilege we have!—to help minister this mystery to others which has blessed us so! May it be that we only do so, though, through the enabling power of the Holy Spirit.

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