The Focus of our Spiritual Life and Ministry
Ephesians Lesson #085
September 27, 2020
Dr. Robert L. Dean, Jr.
“Our Father, we’re so thankful that we have Your Word, that it is Your Word that is alive and powerful. You use Your Word to bring people to an understanding of salvation. It is Your Word that God the Holy Spirit uses to challenge us in our spiritual life. We know that the promise of Your Word in Isaiah is that it will not go forth void, but will accomplish the purpose for which You have intended it.
“Father, as we come together to focus on Your Word, we know that there are many around us, many in our families, many of our friends who just don’t have the understanding of the importance of Your Word, that it is absolute truth and without error.
“Father, we pray that we might be able to learn it so well that we are able to explain why that is true to those around us to help them see and understand that if they construct their lives on any other foundation, then it is a weak foundation of shifting sand and will not stand the storms of life.
“Father now as we study Your Word, may God the Holy Spirit open our eyes to understand what is here, its significance. For what we see here is Your definition of priorities, Your definition of what is truly significant and how that should impact how we live our lives and how we respond to the circumstances around us. We pray this in Christ’s name, amen.”
Open your Bibles to Ephesians 3. Today we’re looking at the focus of our spiritual life and ministry. The application of the main theme here is that we see the focus on Paul’s ministry, on Paul’s calling from God as an apostle. It is critical to understand this and its framework.
Last time we just looked at Ephesians 3:1 because there is a break that occurs at the end of this verse. He starts a sentence, then stops abruptly, and goes into a diversion—what appears to be a distraction—through Ephesians 3:13. Then in Ephesians 3:14 he restarts it. We understand this because he begins Ephesians 3:1 with the same phrase that he will use again in Ephesians 3:14.
Ephesians 3:1, “For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles.”
There something going on here because Paul doesn’t just say, “Oh, I’m going to start this sentence, and oops! I forgot something. I’m going to go somewhere else.”
There is a significance as to why he takes this side-trip between Ephesians 3:2 and Ephesians 3:14. He is specifically building this in terms of a framework. That framework becomes obvious when you look at Ephesians 3:13.
Ephesians 3:1, “For this reason,” talks about who he is as Paul, that he is a prisoner, in Rome at this time. He spent two years as a prisoner in Israel at the palace of the procurator, the governor, at Caesarea by the Sea. Then he traveled by ship to Rome, and was a prisoner for two years, where he states that this is specifically related to his ministry to the Gentiles.
We understand from Ephesians 3:13 that he knows that his audience, the Ephesian believers, are very concerned, distraught and discouraged by the fact that he has been in prison for so long. What he wrote between Ephesians 3:1 and Ephesians 3:13 was designed to encourage them and to strengthen them in their faith and their personal ministries.
Ephesians 3:13, after this apparent diversion—which is not a diversion or digression at all—he concludes this section, “Therefore I ask that you do not lose heart …” meaning to be discouraged, to be down, to become tired and weary in pursuing your spiritual growth, in your mission as a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, which is to grow to maturity as a believer and to be a witness to all those who are around you.
Ephesians 3:13, “Therefore, I ask that you do not become discouraged at my tribulations …” At my adversities, at the problems that I’m having, which is being in prison all this time. “You may think this is preventing God from accomplishing His purposes, but this is the way God is actually accomplishing His purposes.”
How many times in our lives do we hit diversions or various things that come up like pandemics and quarantines, political things or whatever, that limit us from doing what we had planned to do and what we want to do. Yet God is still in control, and He is still going to accomplish His purposes the way He originally intended, which may not be the way we intend.
We shouldn’t get our eyes on our circumstances, and we should focus on carrying out, within those circumstances that God has allowed to happen, His mission. Because it’s His will that these things happen—that is, He has allowed them.
Looking at the structure here, he begins in Ephesians 3:2 to talk to them about the significance, the vital importance of what he is doing. I want you to address your attention on this.
When we look at things in the Bible at times, we don’t catch the fact that what is really going on here is that God is telling us to get our heads out of our sin nature and to start putting them on God’s plan and purpose. This is exactly what happens: people get so concerned about the distractions, that they forget that God allows those distractions in order to accomplish what He wants to accomplish.
In Ephesians 3:1, “I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles …” Paul is bringing us back to his focal point that began in Ephesians 2:11. That phrase, “For this reason” is taking us back to everything he says from Ephesians 2:11–22.
His primary point in Ephesians 2:11–22 is that what makes the Church so significant, distinctive and vital in God’s plan is that it’s accomplishing something new: that in the Church there is now unity between Jew and Gentile. The Jew and Gentile are equal in the body of Christ.
He calls it “a new man,” “a new body,” and “a new temple,” all of which makes what’s happening today in terms of God’s work through the Church distinct from every other age and dispensation in all of history.
It means that you as a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ in this Church Age, no matter what you may think your limitations are, no matter what you may think your failures are, that you are more significant than any believer in any other era at any other time in history.
Paul says at the beginning of this epistle that God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies. Most of us are living like we’re paupers instead of having the wealth that God has given us.
This epistle is divided into three sections:
1. Ephesians 1–3 is designed to help us understand the riches—the wealth—that is ours in Christ. Understanding that is foundational, it is critical, it is necessary for:
2. Ephesians 4–6:9 our walk in Christ, how we live in Christ.
3. Ephesians 6:10–24 focuses on our warfare.
Our wealth is the foundation for our walk, which is to enable us to be victorious in our warfare.
It’s critical to understand Paul’s specific relationship to the Gentiles. He was called by God as an apostle to the Gentiles.
In Acts 22:21 he tells his hearers that God told him at the time of his salvation on the road to Damascus in Acts 9 that God commissioned him to take the gospel to the Gentiles. That didn’t mean he couldn’t take the gospel to the Jews, for everywhere he went he went to the Jews first and then to the Gentiles, but it meant that that was his primary mission.
On the flip side—I’ve heard people say, “Well, Paul was wrong to do that!” No, you’re wrong in the way you read the Scripture. Peter was the apostle to the Jews, but he was the first one God sent to take the gospel to the Gentiles.
Just because God tells you that you’re the missionary and apostle to the Gentiles, doesn’t mean it’s wrong to give the gospel to Jews, and neither is the flipside. That was Paul’s primary area of responsibility. What he is saying in this chapter is related to the function of his apostleship in relationship to the Gentiles.
In Acts 26:17 he is again rehearsing what God said, that he would go to the Gentiles, “to whom I now send you.”
Galatians 2:7–8, Paul, talking about his ministry, his commission and Peter’s commission says that Peter was committed to take the gospel to the circumcised, and that, “the gospel for the uncircumcised had been committed to me.”
In Galatians 2:8, he talks about how God was working effectively in him toward the Gentiles. This Gentile ministry is critical for understanding what happens here in Ephesians 3:2 and following.
In Romans 11:13 he specifically states that he is the “apostle to the Gentiles.”
Ephesians 3:2, remember this is the break after Ephesians 3:1 reminding them that he’s “the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles …” Then he changes the topic; he just breaks. There’s a pause and he appears to digress. But the digression is specifically designed to help us understand his mission as an apostle to the Gentiles, and why understanding his mission means that you have to understand the content of his message.
When you understand the content of his message, which is still the message that’s committed to us centuries later, then that means it’s going to change your attitude when you face roadblocks and diversions in your life that you didn’t expect. He goes from Ephesians 3:2-12 explaining why this is what should change your thinking.
Our problem today is that Christians don’t understand how to think biblically. When you want to think biblically you have to flush the psychobabble concepts the world has taught you out of your head. You have to flush out the sociological concepts the world has taught you. If you have had a background or experience in many of the so-called evangelical churches of today, what you get is Pablum, psychobabble, and you don’t get the Word of God.
I will give you an example: recently, I was aware of a pastor who began a sermon, like many will, and he’s talking about the fact that God created us with a lot of needs, but only God can fulfill those needs.
Then he made his error. What are the needs that we have as a result of Adam’s fall? We have a need for life because we’re spiritually dead. We have a need for righteousness because we’re unrighteous. We have a need to be justified because we are not justified. That’s just the starting point.
But he started with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow’s not a believer, and he’s just making stuff up out of thin air! That’s what happens. People go to all these churches and their sermons are all about “these five things you need to know to have a happy marriage” and “six things you need to know to be a good parent,” and “seven things you need to know so you get out of bed and not be in a bad mood all day.” It’s just garbage because they don’t start with the Text.
Paul is saying if you want to stop being discouraged about what’s happening to me, what you need to understand is the Mystery Doctrine of the Church Age. If you don’t understand that, then you’re just trying to solve your depression, your discouragement, your sorrow, and your frustration by human viewpoint means. You don’t understand how to think.
This is a problem so many people have because Paul, in a well-known passage in 1 Thessalonians 4 he starts off talking about the fact that we are not to grieve like those who have no hope. Immediately he goes into what appears to ignorant baby believers and a lot of people who don’t trust the Word of God, about an eight-verse digression explaining what will happen at the Rapture.
That when Christ returns in the clouds, the dead in Christ will rise first, and then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds. Then he says, remember? “Comfort one another with these words.” What does the church culture say you should do when you comfort one another?
You give them a hug, you talk to them, you tell them a few nice things that may be biblically true, “We know that your loved one is with the Lord in heaven,” and we are comforted by that. But that’s not nearly as deep as what Paul has in those verses from 1 Thessalonians 4:13 down to the end of the chapter.
That’s some serious doctrine there! Yet nobody can comfort anybody with serious doctrine from Ephesians 3 or 1 Thessalonians 4 because they don’t have any in their soul. They don’t know how to take people through a doctrinal exposition to help them think biblically, and to do it in language that the person you’re talking to can understand.
So often when we talk to unbelievers or baby believers, we use a lot of—not that it’s incorrect—but they don’t understand a lot of theological language because they go to churches that don’t teach them anything.
Everything Paul says in Ephesians 3:2–12 is a profound, deep explanation of what God has revealed to him about the distinctives of this dispensation.
Ephesians 3:2, “if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you.”
He begins this with a way of stating a conditional sentence in the Greek that indicates “yes; if and it’s true.” Yes, you’ve heard this from me, because four years ago I spent 2 to 3 years with you in Ephesus, and I taught you all of these things.
He’s reminding them of what he taught them, saying, “Remember what I taught you. We are going to explain it some more, so you haven’t forgotten it, and you will not be discouraged when you think about me being in prison here in Rome. Because this is God’s plan for my life, and I’m not discouraged. I’m having a great ministry and a great opportunity to witness to all these members of the Praetorian Guard that come around.”
Ephesians 3:2, “if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you.”
Ephesians 3:13, “Therefore I ask that you do not lose heart at my tribulations for you which is your glory.”
We will only go through Ephesians 3:7 in summary this week. We will drill down a little more next week; then we will do Ephesians 3:8–12. But his basic point is if the Ephesians fully understood God’s mission for Paul and fully understood God’s message related to the mystery of what God was doing in this Church Age—that which has been revealed about the Church Age—then they would not be discouraged by his or anyone’s apparently negative circumstances.
I can restate that. If YOU fully understood God’s mission for Paul and his mission for us, then YOU would not be discouraged by his or anyone else’s negative or discouraging circumstances because we understand what God is doing in this in this Church Age.
We have to understand the importance of this mystery.
Ephesians 3:4 emphasizes the centrality of this. “By referring to this—that is, by referring to what he has said in relation to the mystery doctrine—when you read—what I’ve said here—you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ.”
The point that he is making here is, if you understand what God is doing, if you understand the ministry He’s given me which is delegated to you—not the apostolic part, but continuing to teach what Paul wrote—if you understand that and my ministry and the message, then you’re going to realize that nothing about me being in prison is hindering God’s work at all, so there’s nothing to be discouraged about. In fact, we should be thankful for all these things, which in fact, is what he says to the Philippians in that epistle.
We will get to Ephesians 3:2–13, but our focus is on Ephesians 3:2–7 today—we have to answer certain questions. Part of the reason we have to address these questions is because there are some misunderstandings about the significance of a couple of phrases, especially in Ephesians 3:2.
Ephesians 3:2, “if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you …” We have to answer the question,
1. What is the meaning of the dispensation of the grace of God?
Most of you have been well taught on dispensationalism, and often you have heard the current age also referred to as the Dispensation of Grace. Older dispensationalists sometimes called it the Dispensation of Grace rather than the Dispensation of the Church. But calling it the Dispensation of Grace implied that there was no grace before the coming of Christ, and that’s not true. There was a lot of grace, as we’ve studied many, many times in the Old Testament.
In looking at this line in Ephesians 3:2, “the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you,” they put the break in the wrong place: “the dispensation of the grace of God” as if what we’re talking about is the dispensation of the grace of God. We have to understand this, that in this kind of context, what does the Apostle Paul mean by the grace of God?
Often when we read about the grace of God, the first thing we think of is saving grace. Then we think of the grace that God gives us in terms of our spiritual growth. We’re to grow in the grace and the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. We also think in terms of dying grace, and what God supplies at the end of our life in comforting us with His Word before He takes us home.
Paul often uses, “the grace of God which was given to me” in a totally different sense that doesn’t fit any of those categories.
One of the problems we have historically is that we tend to atomize these verses. By that I mean we take each word, which is important, and do word studies on each word, then we put those results together as if that gives us the meaning of the sentence. We had to do that for many, many years because the tools, concordances and other word studies that we have were somewhat limited until we got to the Computer Age.
People were doing this kind of work, but it would take months or years to go through and trace phrases, and you really had to know the text to do all this. There were men that did this, but their work wasn’t always available to everyone.
We have phrases that have significance that are much, much more than the individual words. In other words, the meaning of the phrase is much greater than the sum of the parts.
We have to find out how Paul uses “the grace of God” in this context. Then in terms of looking at this phrase, we must decide if he’s talking about “the dispensation of the grace of God,” or “the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me.”
If “the dispensation of the grace of God” equals the Church Age dispensation that would mean that Paul is saying “the dispensation of the Church Age has been given to me.” Does that make sense? That’s how that’s been traditionally understood by a lot of older dispensationalists.
Or is it “the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me,” where the grace of God is what is given to him, not the dispensation? I’ve got nice charts for that when we get there because it’s already making your eyes glaze over.
2. Is Ephesians 3:3b–4 in the New King James translation a parenthetical or explanatory statement? It would seem from the way they put that parenthesis in there that it’s explanatory—an explanation of the mystery that was made known to Paul.
3. What exactly is the mystery doctrine which is explained in Ephesians 3:5–7?
As I spent last week and this week reading commentaries, reading through the text, reading through the Greek text over and over again, and looking at the different nuances and difficulties in analyzing the grammar, I thought, “How in the world am I going to explain this without making everybody go to sleep while I’m explaining technicalities of grammar that is far beyond most people’s comprehension?”
I decided the best thing to do is like I read a book. When I read a difficult book, and I’m having trouble capturing what the author’s trying to get at the beginning, I reached his conclusion.
I’ve said this many times, that one of the things I learned before I went to seminary, is that when you’re going through a book—and I don’t mean a fiction book. I don’t mean a murder mystery where you go read the last chapter to find out who really did it—but when you’re reading a difficult book, history or theology or something like that, read the foreword. The foreword is there for a reason, not just to take up a few pages of print. Usually, the author will explain what it is that he’s about.
Then, read his first chapter or his introduction to see how he’s setting things up, where he is going and what he is going to say. Then you read the conclusion to find out what he has said and what he claims to have done. Then look at the Table of Contents. If it’s a well-written Table of Contents, you can kind of follow how he lays out his argument as you go chapter by chapter, and then you just skim certain portions.
Often we have to go to the end of something to see where it’s headed before we can fully grasp what’s going on at the beginning. So, we will go to the last verse, starting at Ephesians 3:7, then we will look at Ephesians 3:3–6, and then we will get back to Ephesians 3:2.
This section is all about the mystery—previously un-revealed truth that God has now revealed to the Apostle Paul—and that he is communicating this as part of what he identifies as the gospel at the end of Ephesians 3:6.
Ephesians 3:7, “of which I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God—have you seen that phrase before?—given to me by the effective working of His power.”
When he says, “of which,” that takes us back to the last word of the previous verse which is “the gospel,” and the noun here simply means “the good news.” That’s what it describes. Sometimes the verb will get translated as simply “preaching,” but it’s always the idea of evangelism, of preaching the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ.
Paul has a narrow sense of the gospel and a broad sense of the gospel. Often when we hear something we say, “Well, so-and-so got the gospel right.” What they mean is they were accurate in telling people how to be justified, how to be saved, so that they will spend eternity in heaven as opposed to eternity in the Lake of Fire. That’s the narrow sense of the gospel: What must I do to be saved? Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.
But the broader use of the gospel is everything that flows from that: the significance of your new life in Christ, your new identity in Christ, everything that God has given you as a new believer in this Church Age, and what that means for your life and your ministry.
That’s how Paul’s uses “the gospel” here, in this much broader sense. I’m not going to use the phrase “full gospel” because that gets you into the charismatics and they abuse that term, so we can’t use it anymore. But this, shall we say “complete gospel” that’s relating to the spiritual life as well, it’s the pregnant sense of the word.
He says “of which gospel—of all that Christ has done for us, because the gospel that he’s talking about here, as we will see, is directly related to his understanding of this mystery that has been revealed to him—of this gospel I became a minister …”
Or a servant … “… according to the gift of the grace of God given to me—that’s the whole phrase—according to the gift of the grace of God which was given to me by the effective working of His power.”
What is the significance of this? This is what we have to figure out.
This whole phrase, “the gift of the grace of God which was given to me,” is almost identical to the phrase used in Ephesians 3:2, “if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me.”
That whole phrase has to be understood as a technical phrase. It is not “the dispensation of grace, [break] the grace that was given to me,” but it is “the dispensation of—then this whole linked concept—the grace of God which was given to me.”
What in the world does that mean when Paul is saying “this is the grace of God which was given to me?”
Just to give you an overview schematic, these are the verses in Ephesians 3:2-7. You’ll notice Ephesians 3:2 starts with, “the grace of God which was given to me,” and ends at Ephesians 3:7 with, “the grace of God which was given to me.”
We’ve studied this many times; in literature circles, it is an inclusio; it’s an inclusion. You have something stated at the beginning and something identical stated at the end, which tells you that everything in between is related to understanding that concept.
It’s like in the Navy, you would do bracketing or in the Army, in the artillery, where your target is way out there, when you fire your first shot it goes long. So, you adjust your range-finder, then you fire the next round and it goes short. Now you’ve zeroed in on your target, and you adjust things a little bit more. Then the third round, you just nail it.
This is a literary bracketing that identifies this as a solid piece of work that needs to be walked through, talked through as a whole before you start breaking it down into individual parts.
Four points on this phrase:
1. Frequently this phrase is used by Paul—not by anybody else—in connection with the spiritual gifts that God gives.
It’s not talking about saving grace, it is not talking about spiritual life grace; it’s not talking about dying grace. It is talking about the giving of spiritual gifts to each believer and the ministry and function of those spiritual gifts.
In some passages it uses CHARISMATA. Remember, the word for grace is CHARIS; when you add the suffix MATA, it means grace gifts, so that’s one word that’s used for spiritual gifts. In other verses it uses the word for gift, which is DOREAN.
Ephesians 4:7, “But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”
This is in the next chapter, and in that particular context of Ephesians 4:7–12, he talks about the leadership gifts that God gives to the church. He lists four: Apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor-teachers. We’ve gone through the details of that list; he is just focusing on leadership gifts.
“… to each one of us—there are other spiritual gifts other than the ones listed in Ephesians 4—grace was given.”
Here he means grace gifts are given; also when he uses this phrase: “grace was given.”
We see this in the way he uses it in Romans 12:6, “Since we have gifts—CHARISMATA—since we have spiritual gifts that differ according to the grace given—there’s our phrase again, CHARIS plus the same verb DIDOMI—grace given to us.”
What is the grace given to us that he’s talking about? Spiritual gifts; that’s the point. This phrase is used in connection with God giving spiritual gifts.
2. When Paul uses the phrase “grace given to me,” the grace that is given has to do with spiritual gifts.
1 Corinthians 3:10, “According to the grace of God which was given to me …”
He’s not talking about saving grace; he is not talking about spiritual life grace; he’s not talking about dying grace. He’s talking about the spiritual gift of apostle that was given to him. He is talking about the mission as one with the gift of apostle, and he’s talking about the ministry, the message, of one who is given the gift of apostle.
“According to the spiritual gift of apostleship and the ministry given to me as a wise master builder …” This is a technical phrase, describing the mission as having the gift of apostle and the message of the one who is given the gift of apostle.
He does the same thing in Romans 12:3, “For through the grace given to me … What’s he saying? “… through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think …”
What does he mean by “the grace given to me?” It’s his gift of apostleship. He is saying, “On the authority of being an apostle, I’m telling you this.” He’s appealing to his spiritual office and gift, saying, “On the basis of that authority, I’m telling you to do this.”
Ephesians 3:7-8. We will end with Ephesians 3:7 today, but Ephesians 3:8 uses the same phrase, “of which—that is, the gospel—I was made a minister, according to—here’s the phrase—the gift of God’s grace, which was given to me …” “I was made a minister according to the commissioning as an apostle with a mission and a message,” so those two ideas come together. “… according to the working of His power.”
Ephesians 3:8, “To me, the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles—the grace that is given is related to the message—to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ.”
That’s another really important phrase because it takes us back to the whole significance and message of what Paul is saying in Ephesians. Remember the breakdown? The first three chapters are talking about the riches of Christ. Since it’s a singular in the Greek, I’ve translated it with a singular English noun “wealth” because of the wealth that we have that’s the foundation for our walk.
The grace that is given to Paul is the gift of being an apostle, and the mission that was given to him was “to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ.”
Ephesians 1:7, “In Him we have redemption through His blood … according to the riches of His grace.”
Ephesians 1:18, “the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints.”
Ephesians 2:7, “that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace.”
Ephesians 3:8, “the unsearchable riches of Christ,”
Ephesians 3:16, “the riches of His glory.”
After Ephesians 3, he doesn’t mention the wealth again; that’s the theme of these first three chapters. “The wealth of Christ” is what he’s preaching. It’s not simply believe in Jesus Christ and you’ll be saved, you’re justified by faith alone. That’s just the starting point. Believing that is how we get regenerated, but with regeneration we’re blessed with every spiritual blessing, and we have the wealth of Christ at our disposal.
That’s his message. That’s different from anything that we’ve learned from Genesis through Malachi because it’s not in the Old Testament.
3. The mission God gave to Paul as an apostle was to proclaim the mystery doctrine of the Church—this is the mystery doctrine—that Jew and Gentile are now united together as one new man, one new body, and one new temple.
He’s saying that you have to understand this; otherwise, you’re going to be discouraged and down in the dumps whenever anything goes not according to your plan. Because this is God’s plan, and if you’re going to have stability and tranquility and joy in life, you have to orient your thinking to God’s plan and purpose, not your plan and purpose.
We see in Ephesians 3:8 that his mission is “to preach the good news to the Gentiles—and the good news is—the unsearchable riches of Christ.”
Those riches of Christ have to do with those blessings we have in Christ, which is part of that whole package that he calls “the mystery.”
“Mystery” doesn’t mean something that you have to guess at or something you have to go through a lot of cryptic clues to discover. In Greek the word “mystery” meant previously un-revealed truth.
In Ephesians 3:9 he says that his mission is also “to reveal to all what is the dispensation of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Christ Jesus.”
What he says there is an expansion on Ephesians 3:5–6. We won’t get to understanding Ephesians 3:9 for a while.
4. Conclusion: the phrase, “the grace given to me” refers to Paul’s apostolic gift, his office, his mission, and his apostolic function, his message. It’s his mission and his message.
We don’t have the same mission, but we have the same message. We don’t have apostolic authority, but because of his apostolic authority, we have the same message.
Paul recognizes that his designated mission is to take this good news to the Gentiles. There was a barrier between you and the Jews before the Cross. Now that barrier between you and the Jews is gone. The barrier between humanity and God is gone. And if you trust in Christ now Jew and Gentile are united together in a new body. They’re united together as a new man, they’re united together as a new temple.
Paul’s designated mission as the apostle to the Gentiles is the message that that barrier is gone.
After we look at Ephesians 3:7, we will back to Ephesians 3:3–6 and hit a couple of high points.
Ephesians 3:3, “how that by revelation He—that is, by revelation, God—made known to me the mystery.”
The next slide: “mystery” means previously unrevealed truth.
Ephesians 3:3, “God made known to me the mystery … as I have briefly written already …” I think that’s just referring back to what he said at the end of Ephesians 2 which we will cover next week as we look at other aspects I’m not covering today.
In Ephesians 3:5 he continues this thought, “… which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men …”
There is your definition of mystery. Mystery is not something you’re guessing at. It’s not something cryptic and hidden from us now; it is that which was hidden previously. In other ages it was not made known to men; that’s an absolute statement. It wasn’t even hinted at in the Old Testament.
“… in other ages it was not made known to the sons of men—then we have an important phrase we have to understand—as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets…”
In Ephesians 3:6, the purpose, the content of the message is that Gentiles should be fellow heirs of the same body.
Interestingly, in the Greek—it’s hard to translate this into English; I will try to in a minute—each of these terms begins with the Hebrew preposition sun, which means “together with.” So when we put sounds together we have a “sun phonic,” a symphony, but in English it’s hard to say the “N” before “P,” so we change it from an “N” to an “M,” but we have a symphony.
If we are identifying with somebody with their emotions, then we have “sun pathos,” “sympathy.” Again the “N” changes to an “M” because we can’t pronounce an “N” before “P,” so we change it to an “M.”
Each of these words, “fellow heirs,” “same body,” and “partakers” is the same word in the Greek. They all start with sun, but it’s hard to get that in English. It should be “fellow heirs, fellow members of the same body, and fellow partakers.” That’s the best way to put it, so you get that emphasis, but translations don’t do that.
Ephesians 3:3, “how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery …”
The word for revelation, APOKALUPSIS is “apocalyptic,” in English, which sounds like it’s something horrible and terrible. But APOKALUPSIS just means to reveal something. Because in the Book of Revelation, APOKALUPSIS has to do with all the judgments at the end, the word came to mean something bad and horrible. But it means the unveiling, the disclosure, the revealing of new information.
“… how that by disclosure, by revealing He—God—made known to me the mystery.” Mystery means simply previously unrevealed information.
Ephesians 3:5, “which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men …”
But the next phrase gets misinterpreted because some will look at it and say, “as it has now been revealed by the Spirit. ‘Well, you know, it was revealed partially in the Old Testament, and we get more of it now,’” But that’s a misinterpretation of this comparative adjective “as.”
“As:” can it be expressing a comparative of degree or a comparison of description? If I said, “Well, my cake is not as good as yours.” That tells me that I made a cake, but it’s not as good as your cake. There’s a difference of degree between the two statements.
People who read this as a comparison of degrees say, “Well, it’s revealed partially in the Old Testament.” But nowhere in the Old Testament is there anything like what is said in Ephesians 2:11–22, that God is going to wipe out the barrier between Jew and Gentile, join them together as joint heirs in Christ and build in them a new man, a new body, and a new temple. Nothing like that in the Old Testament.
However, the other way in which “as” is used is a comparison of description. So, you’re talking about one person who’s a doctor saying, “She’s not a teacher as he is.” You’re not saying that he’s partially a teacher. He’s a doctor, she’s a teacher, and he’s not a teacher like she is. He’s different. Everybody else in the group’s teachers, but he’s a doctor.
Peter uses it this way in Acts 2:15 when the Jews who heard the disciples speaking in languages they hadn’t learned, said, “These men are drunk!” Peter says, “No, these men are not drunk, as you suppose …”
Now if you’re thinking about a comparison of degree, then Peter would be saying. “They’re not as drunk as you think they are.” They’re a little drunk, they’re not that drunk. But if it’s a comparison of description, he saying they’re not drunk at all. You’re misidentifying what’s going on here.
The first phrase in our clause in Ephesians 3:5 tells us that in other ages, this wasn’t made known at all.
I would translate Ephesians 3:5, “Which in previous ages was not made known to the human race, but now has been revealed to His holy—that is, New Testament—apostles and—New Testament—prophets by the Spirit.”
If it said, “prophets and apostles:” prophets in the Old Testament and apostles in the New Testament, then it would give us Old Testament first, then New Testament, but it said “apostles and prophets.”
Most of the New Testament was written by apostles. Some books were likely written by those who had the gift of prophecy, like Luke and the writer of Hebrews. Those were the revelatory gifts operational in the early Church.
The purpose of proclaiming this mystery doctrine is that the Gentiles will understand their identity. They’re joint heirs; they’re in the same body, fellow members of the same body; and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ through the gospel. That’s the message: to give the Ephesian believers comfort and to not be discouraged by the fact that Paul’s in prison.
I’m going to suggest—I may be way off here, but I’m going to suggest that when you face people who are down and out and discouraged, this isn’t the first thing you think of. I don’t think it made your list all.
But Paul is saying: this is how you are to encourage people who are discouraged. “Oh, the world’s in a mess! We’re living in all this chaos! We’ve got this pandemic going on!” The last thing in the world that came to your mind was, “These people need to understand the mystery doctrine of the Church Age.” I may be wrong; I’m just guessing, but that’s how you think if you’re thinking biblically.
Ephesians 3:2, “if indeed you have heard of the—and now we understand that this should be translated—the dispensation of the grace of God which is given to me.”
The phrase “the grace of God which is given to me” is talking about Paul’s apostolic commission: his mission and message. That is foundational to this dispensation. So, we do get there, but it’s a long way around the barn to get back to that.
We look at, “the dispensation of the grace of God” and we see the relative clause “which was given to me.”
The way many people read this is that Paul is talking about the dispensation which was given to him. But you have these two other genitive phrases there “of the grace” and “of God,” so the grace is from God, but the dispensation is related to something different.
We translate the word “dispensation” as “administration.” Another sense of the word is dispensing something. This isn’t talking about the title for the Church Age as the dispensation of grace. This is talking about Paul’s mission as an apostle.
He is to be administrating or dispensing the ministry, the mission and the message that was given to him: that is to proclaim the gospel. Which in this context includes the mystery that Jew and Gentile are now united together in the body of Christ as one new man, one new body, and one new temple.
It is “the grace of God which was given to me,” that is, the administration of the office and the function of apostleship that was given to Paul. His focus is on communicating this previously unrevealed information.
The questions I asked at the beginning:
What is the meaning of the dispensation of the grace of God?
That means the dispensing of Paul’s apostolic gift and ministry and his message.
What’s the significance of the phrase “grace of God?”
It refers to Paul’s gift as an apostle, and that involves his mission and his message.
Second: Are verses 3b–4 a parenthesis?
The answer is no. We will get into that when we come back to the passage next week.
Third: What is the mystery doctrine made known to Paul?
It is the union of Jew and Gentile in one new man, one new body, and one new temple.
His focal point for emphasis is in Ephesians 3:4, “by which—talking about this mystery—when you read—my explanation of it—you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ.”
So that you can encourage people, and they won’t be discouraged … you never saw that application coming did you?
Paul’s mission and ours:
1. Is to teach about the new revelation which is the characteristic of the new dispensation.
I know most of you have heard me and a few others teach this, but many people have never once in a life of seven or eight decades ever heard a message on the mystery doctrine of the Church Age! Yet Paul says this is integral and foundational to understanding your identity in Christ and how to avoid being discouraged by the circumstances of life.
2. Understanding what God is doing in the Church Age will transform your response to adversity.
It’s fundamental; this is the key, so you won’t get discouraged “because you see me in jail.”
3. We realize that God has a plan and is working out that plan by bringing untold millions of Gentiles and Jews into this new man, this new body, and this new temple.
We have to understand more than anything else the significance of that new man, new body, new temple which is the Church universal. Why is the Church, the body of Christ, so important?
4. Understanding our role in that—the church universal, the body of Christ—should transform our thinking about why we are here and what God is doing through us.
“Father, we thank You for this opportunity we have to go through this passage to have our understanding of who we are and what our ministry and mission should be in this Church Age expanded.
“Father, too often we have such superficial concepts of our spiritual life, or our spiritual ministry. Too often people think, “Well, I don’t know enough, I don’t understand enough, and I just need to fill out three or four more notebooks with notes, and then maybe I can do something.” Yet we already have everything, we just need to begin to use it and to grow. We grow by learning to use it. We make mistakes, we grow by the mistakes. You work in our lives and You accomplish incredible things.
“Father, we pray that we might be strongly encouraged by what we have learned, for that is its purpose. That despite the pandemic, despite the negatives around us, despite the election and all the noise related to the election, You’re still in control. Everything is going according to Your plan, and we need to just relax, align ourselves with it and keep about our mission which is to tell others about the Lord Jesus Christ, the substitutionary death on the cross. And if people believe, to help them understand what a transformation has taken place in their lives, that they have a new identity and new mission and a new message.
“Father, we pray that You would help anyone who’s listening today who’s never trusted in Christ as Savior. Help them understand the gospel if they’ve never trusted in Christ. You don’t have to do anything, You don’t have change Your life, You don’t have to join any particular group, You just have to trust in Christ as Your Savior, to believe that he died for You. He bore in his own body on the tree our sins, that by trusting in Him we have complete and total forgiveness, the slate’s wiped clean, and we have eternal life, and are declared eternally justified before You.
“Make that clear to those who listen, Father. Encourage us with Your Word. In Christ’s name, amen.”