Sunday, December 07, 2008

Ephesians 3:1,7-9

1For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles--7I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God's grace given me through the working of His power. 8Although I am less than the least of all God's people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things.

Paul begins to explain his prayer here in v1, but he doesn’t actually get to it until v16-19. He takes a moment to elaborate on his ministry, as well as the mystery that God has revealed through Paul, in v2-13, and then he reintroduces the prayer in v14-15, before finally praying in v16-19. The doxology comes in v20-21. But for this passage, v1 and v7-9, notice Paul’s self-description.

In v1, Paul calls himself a prisoner. He is writing from house arrest in Rome as a prisoner of Caesar, but here he calls himself a prisoner of Christ. Caesar had no authority over Paul, except that which came from Christ. The Heidelberg Catechism begins with this question: “What is your only comfort in life and death?” It answers, “My only comfort in life and death is that Jesus Christ my Lord has died for me, and I belong to Him, and I am not my own…and not one hair of my head can fall, apart from my heavenly Father.” In other words, you are under the watchful, careful, providential oversight of a loving, merciful heavenly Father, who will not allow anything to happen to His children apart from His will. So Paul sees himself as being exactly where Jesus wants him to be. Vincent Cheung says, “In accordance with his firm belief in the sovereignty of God and the power of Christ, he refuses to see himself as a victim of religious persecution or political might; rather, he calls himself ‘the prisoner of Christ Jesus,’ who controls every detail of every situation, directing history exactly as He has predetermined it.” He goes on to say, “Many people will not even lose sleep or miss lunch for the sake of the gospel, and still less will they suffer imprisonment or even martyrdom for it. This is first because most professing Christians are false converts; they have never been regenerated. And the rest of us are weak – weak, and feeble, and pathetic! In not making Christ our sole obsession, we have become worldly and ineffective. Soon the apostle will pray for inward power (v14-19), at which point we should pay special attention.”

Notice also that Paul’s imprisonment to Christ was for the sake of the Gentiles. That’s what Paul’s God-given mission was about – see Acts 9. And everybody in these local congregations knew it (v2). Paul was saved unto good works, which God had prepared in advance for him to do (Ephesians 2:10). Paul understood that and cherished the role. He is a prisoner of Christ, for the sake of foreigners, unclean Gentiles no less! And it probably humbled his Gentile audience, which had come to faith through his proclamation of the gospel, which in turn is what caused his imprisonment. Paul would rather suffer imprisonment than keep from preaching the gospel of Christ – for the sake of the Gentiles. And he knew that there were some deeply discouraged Ephesian Christians saddened by his imprisonment, trials, and tribulations; so before Paul, as a Pastor, prays for the Ephesians that they would be built up and assured in Christ, he instructs them in order that they would not lose heart. He wants them to be encouraged by several great truths, which are laid out through v13.

As we see in v7, Paul is a servant of the gospel by the gift of God’s grace, which came to him through the working of God’s power – which is undoubtedly the Holy Spirit’s work in regeneration and transformation. When we get to the prayer in v16-19, we’ll see that Paul wants what happened to him to be the norm for every believer. Isn’t that an amazing attitude to have, to see yourself as a prisoner and servant and cherish it so much that you want others to join you for the sake of the gospel and the grace and the glory of God! Paul is glorying in who he is and what he has in Jesus Christ. That changes his approach to suffering and trial and tribulation in life, and it’s meant to change the way we view suffering and trials and tribulations too. Paul is on fire for God; he is filled to overflowing; he wants us to be too.

Paul humbly describes himself in v8 as “less than the least of all God’s people.” He does similarly elsewhere (1 Corinthians 15:9; 1 Timothy 1:15-16), both early on and later in his ministry. Paul is saying to these Ephesian Christians, “Look, friends; look at your God. Look at the God who showed grace to me, to the most wretched of men, and gave me this message to preach, and look at this glorious mystery that He’s revealing in His church and His people. Be encouraged!” That’s the power of the gospel, an astonishing and boundless treasure of grace” (Calvin), and that’s why all men should embrace it with the greatest of urgency and esteem it as the power of God unto salvation, though it exceeds their capacity to grasp. V9 summarizes Paul’s purpose to clarify our thinking, “to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery.” We'll look at what that mystery is in v2-6.

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