A Novel Mystery

[Note: be sure to read reflectively Ephesians 3 before you begin this study.]

I love a good mystery. Give me a page-turning, plot-twisting “whodunit” and I’m hooked. I even think that if I had two dogs, I’d name them Hercule and Sherlock!

The most significant of all “mysteries” confronts the reader of Ephesians in chapter three. Here Paul closes the first half of the letter by reminding his audience of key themes introduced earlier:

the place of Gentiles in Christ’s body (1:12-13; 2:11-22; 3:6)

an explanation of that “body” (1:22-23; 3:6)

details of God’s purpose and plan (1:5, 9, 11; 3:2, 11)

a petition for “fullness” (1:15-22; 3:14-21)

a reminder of the role of spiritual powers and rulers (1:20-21; 3:10).

These connectors also include a more detailed explanation of the “mystery” Paul has mentioned (1:9; 3:1-6). He begins this third chapter by revealing more about this mystery (vv. 1-6), then explains his role in proclaiming the truth behind it (vv. 7-13). Paul closes with a profound intercessory prayer on behalf of those who receive this truth (vv. 14-21).

Revealing a Mystery (3:1-6)

Paul introduces his prayer in verse 1, then injects a lengthy “aside” devoted to the gospel mystery and to his ministry. He reminds his Gentile readers that his stewardship (Gk. oikonomia) role in the gospel flows solely from God’s grace. It is a gift from Him to them (v. 2).

More specifically, Paul’s commission is to share the “mystery of Christ” God has revealed to him. This mystery, also discussed in Colossians 1:24-29, entails a great truth once hidden but now revealed by God’s Spirit to the apostles and prophets. In verse 6, Paul discloses the mystery: that the Gentiles are: (1) fellow heirs with believing Jews; (2) members with the Jews in the same body; and (3) partakers of God’s saving promises.

While the Old Testament celebrates the inclusion of the nations into God’s redemptive plan, what was not clear then is the truth Paul now announces: Jew and Gentile stand equally justified through Christ in His church.

Explaining a Ministry (3:7-13)

Once more Paul points to the grace and power of God working in his life as the reason for his “servant” (Gk. diakonos) position in God’s plan (v. 7). He certainly doesn’t merit such a role. He is the “least of all saints” (literally, “less than the least”), according to verse 8, yet he gladly embraces the privilege of preaching the “unsearchable riches of Christ.”

Paul’s task, he asserts, is revealing the mystery of Christ – shining the light for all to see God’s “manifold wisdom” in His eternal plan of redemption. The church even makes known the truth behind this mystery to the “principalities and powers” in heavenly realms.

No wonder Paul declares the bold confidence and access his faith provides in Christ (v. 12); nor should his willingness to suffer for the gospel surprise us. His “tribulations” are for their glory – and for ours! “So don’t give up,” Paul exhorts.

Offering a Prayer (3:14-21)

The chapter closes with one of the greatest intercessory prayers in the Bible. Paul continues as he began in verse 1: “for this reason.” He begins by acknowledging God as Creator and Father (v. 15), appropriate roles in this setting for intercession. The Lord is able and willing to fulfill these petitions.

Four appeals then form the matrix of the prayer. First, Paul asks God to give his readers strength in their inner being. Such a request is in keeping with the glorious riches at the Lord’s disposal (v. 16).

Paul then prays that Christ would “be at home” in their hearts as they come to trust Him more (v. 17). His third petition probes the vastness of God’s great heart: that they may comprehend all the dimensions of Christ’s love (vv. 18-19a), a love that goes beyond all that we could possibly know. Like a growing marriage relationship, time and intimacy deepen one’s knowledge of God even though we know Him when the relationship starts.

The ultimate result is Paul’s fourth request: “that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God” (v. 19). Just when we think we have “maxed out” in God’s love, there’s always more – more to know, more to love, more of Him.

A memorable doxology closes the prayer (vv. 20-21). God’s power works far beyond our comprehension, yet works within us. His glory shines forever, displayed singularly through Christ and His church.

Applying the Lessons

Each of the three parts of this chapter offers instruction for us. First, the gospel must be real to us. We must know it by experience in our faith and in our lives. Its reality must take preeminence, not just prominence, in what we love and how we live.

Second, we have a part—a “service”—in God’s great plan of making known the gospel. Find where you fit and be faithful.

Third, Paul’s prayer reflects our need: power in the inner person, Christ’s home in our hearts, growth in His love, and the awareness that He’s all we need.

Then the mystery becomes an adventure.