By Stan Brown
Ephesians 3:6 to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel,
Paul specifically defines the mystery in this verse. I begin this morning with a quote that affirms the content of the mystery and then I will look into some of the details. Hoehner writes, “The mystery is not that Gentiles would be saved, for the Old Testament gave evidence of that, but rather that believing Jews and Gentiles are joined together. This was a revolutionary concept for Jews and Gentiles alike!” This is possibly a revolutionary concept for believers today to realize that all believers are partakers together of one body.
Paul uses three compound nouns that are each a combination of the Greek preposition sun (meaning with and translated fellow in this verse) and a noun. This serves to heighten the union and the unity of all members of the body into one entity. The first word translated fellow heirs signifies that as believers of all stripes we stand together united with one another. The second word translated fellow members of the body emphasizes the fact that as believers of all stripes we are dependent upon one another. Each member of the body has an independent function that works in conjunction with every other member of the body and must be performed in conjunction with every member of the body. The third word translated fellow partakers of the promise fulfils the words which God spoke to Abraham when he said And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. (Gen. 12:3)”. In the Old Testament Gentiles had to become members of the Jewish community in order to be recipients of the promises. In this age there is no distinction among the members of the body. This does not abrogate the literal promises of the Old Covenant to the Jews which is demonstrated in the existence of the nation of Israel today. It rather today unites us all as one entity in Christ. God is fantastic in His ability to multitask. He still remembers His literal promises to the nation Israel as he ensures its continued existence. Yet this remains somewhat in the background today as the New Testament emphasizes the unity which all believers have in Christ Jesus through the gospel. These entities will ultimately be united together in eternity.
So, what is the practical result of this mystery? Paul has been building to this point as he has said (1) we are all created into one new humanity (2:15); we are fellow citizens and members of God’s household (2:19); we are being fitted together (2:21); we are being built together into a dwelling place of God (2:22). This is unbelievably exciting. God has made us as individuals his dwelling place through the personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit. God is in the process of building those individual temples into a unified dwelling place for Him. He never denigrates the individual relationship that we have with Him as we are united in one body. We worship Him as individuals as we love Him (Matt. 22:37-38 Jesus said unto him, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment.). We worship Him together as we love one another (Matt. 22:39-40 And the second is like unto it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.). God has chosen us as the united body of Christ to be His message to the world as we love Him and love each other. Paul will soon write, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love (Eph. 4:16).
By Stan Brown
Ephesians 3:4-5 And by referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit;
These two verses serve to emphasize the extreme importance of the mystery which Paul will define in the following verse. For us, they serve to accentuate the tremendous blessing and exhibition of God’s grace that those of us living in this age are receiving. It involves an insight into God’s grace and our role as the place of God’s presence that was never previously available. (I must briefly digress as I ask the question “If this be true, why then, as we near the end of this present age of the outpouring of grace, do we seem to be coming to the same place as in every previous age? It highlights the sinfulness and arrogance of people. No matter what God does to reach out to people, many still turn to the lies of Satan rather than to the unfathomable grace of God. Even in the coming millennium, Satan will still be able to turn thousands away from God. Digression ends here.)
We return the point of these verses. (1) They point back to the previous verses where Paul states that in spite of his extreme depth of knowledge concerning the Old Testament Law (and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions (Gal. 1:14)), it was still necessary for this mystery to be revealed to him by God Himself. (2) Paul states unequivocally that this mystery had not been previously revealed. It is true that the Old Testament knows something about God spreading His message to the Gentiles. It is shown in His promise to Abraham, And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. (Gen. 12:3)”. Isaiah proclaims it, And all the nations will stream to it. (Isa. 2:2). Yet, the revelation of its true impact is reserved for the current age. (3) as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in(by) the Spirit. Just as Paul did not receive it from men but rather received it as direct revelation from God, so His holy apostles and prophets received it directly through the Holy Spirit. They did not hear it from Paul just as he did not hear it from them. In context, the word prophets must refer to New Testament prophets since it was not revealed in the Old Testament. This mystery of the church is something that was always in the plan of God but was only revealed to holy apostles and prophets by the Holy Spirit in New Testament times. Those of us living in this age, including you and me, are uniquely recipients of this mystery of God’s grace.
These two verses serve as a transition from the source of the mystery (God Himself) to the content of the mystery as Paul strategically and beautifully builds to the conclusion in verse thirteen that we might not lose heart. God not only wants to give us eternal life as we accept His gift of grace through faith. He also wants us to experience that grace right now. Just as Paul knew that the Ephesians would be discouraged by his imprisonment and perhaps fears for their own safety, God knows that we can easily become discouraged by the events that encircle us. This message, written nearly two millennia ago, is a message the shouts out to us today. God does want us to be discouraged as we view the events that seem to imprison us. God has showered upon us His grace that we have received through faith. God continues to pour out His grace upon us.
By Stan Brown
Ephesians 3:3 that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief.
Paul continues to expand on the mystery on which he touched earlier in brief when he wrote, Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands — remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world (Eph. 2:11-12). He now expands on this fantastic mystery which had been revealed to Him. The word mystery refers to something that was not clearly known in the Old Testament but is made clear in the New Testament. Hoehner describes it as “a truth hitherto unknown”. In the previous verse Paul has described this mystery as the stewardship of God’s grace.
In the middle of Paul’s digression, I get ahead of myself slightly. The magnificent grace of God had been shown often in the Old Testament. God’s grace was present when He led Adam out of the garden; when He saved Noah from the flood; when He gave promises to Abraham; when He led His people into and out of Egypt; when He gave the Law at Sinai; when He led His people into the Promised Land; when He suffered with their rebellion; when He brought them back from exile and on and on. A hint of His grace regarding the Gentiles was at play as well in the lives of folks like Rahab and Ruth and the sending of the prophet Jonah to Nineveh. Jonah even fled so he would not have a part in displaying God’s grace to Nineveh, yet he knew God’s grace was there. Ah yes, God’s grace is on display in the Old Testament continually and without question. Yet it exploded onto the scene in the New Testament in a way never before seen. In the face of stunning grace folks still reject Him as the world descends into chaos. As I said I got ahead of myself and maybe Paul too. Paul will explain the content of the mystery in verse six.
In the current verse Paul explains that this mystery was revealed by God to him. In Galatians Paul has a lot more to say about the revealing of the Gospel of Christ to Him as he writes For I would have you know, 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 I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ (Gal. 1:11-12). This magnificent mystery of the stewardship of God’s grace could only be revealed by God. There is no other way. We stand as its recipients. Peter writes The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance (2Pet. 3:9). God’s message of grace is available to all as Paul will state in verse six. God desires that all come to repentance. We are His message to the world.
By Stan Brown
Ephesians 3:2 if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you;
Before Paul continues with the prayer he began in the previous verse, he interrupts himself with a long conditional sentence. The protasis of the sentence begins here (If, indeed, you have heard of the dispensation of God’s grace) with the resulting apodosis occurring in verse thirteen (I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf). In between he reminds them of the truths of the Gospel that he has shared with them previously during his ministry with them. This one long sentence might be paraphrased as “I know that you remember what I have told in the past about the mystery relating to God’s grace but I remind you of it anyway. These great truths should cause you to not become discouraged about the fact I am in prison.” I might add that these truths should also cause them to not become discouraged at their own trials. Likewise, because of this stewardship of God’s grace we must not become discouraged in the face of trials in our lives and the lives of those we love.
The words if indeed you have heard (translated surely you have heard about in the NIV) are placed here for emphasis as Paul reminds the Ephesians of the truths he has taught them that are to make a significant difference in the way they face trials and tribulation in their own lives and in the lives of others. The mystery that he will discuss in the following verses is the stewardship (administration NIV) of God’s grace. It is grace that unites all believers into one holy temple in which God dwells. God has given Paul the responsibility of getting his message of grace out to the Gentiles. Grace will be made known to the Gentiles in a way that they never before knew; indeed, in a way that the Jews had never before known. The grace of God is replete in the Old Testament. I do not have time to even begin to consider the riches of God’s grace in the Old Testament. Yet, we have been privileged to see the grace of God in a way that it was not previously seen. It is this grace provided through the death of the Son that has made us the dwelling place of God as we receive Him through faith. It is this message of grace (which was given to me for you) that is available to all no matter their origin or background. It is this message of grace received through faith that matters. It could be said that it is all that matters. There is no part of our lives that it does not touch. We have heard of this grace. Let it make every difference in our lives as the Holy Spirit dwells within us.
It is because of the magnificent grace of God that is right now being displayed in us and to us that must never become discouraged as all the resources of Satan sometimes seem to be focused directly on us and the ones we love. God's grace remains His grace in the midst of chaos. “THE PEOPLE WHO WERE SITTING IN DARKNESS SAW A GREAT LIGHT, AND THOSE WHO WERE SITTING IN THE LAND AND SHADOW OF DEATH, UPON THEM A LIGHT DAWNED (Matt. 4:16).” In the midst of our darkest hour as well as every other hour, the light of the grace of God shines out in our lives. Hallelujah!!
By Stan Brown
Ephesians 3:1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles
Paul now turns to pray for those who have been united together in one body, both Jews and Gentiles into one holy temple in Christ. It was Jesus who truly made this union possible. Paul begins his prayer for this union with the word for this reason. Paul then digresses as for twelve verses he discusses the mystery of Christ and his responsibility to make it known. (A mystery in the New Testament is something that had not been previously revealed and although the Old Testament is replete with references to Christ, the specific fulfillment of them is only revealed in the New Testament.) Paul will pick up on this prayer in verse fourteen with the words for this reason. These words are especially significant in both places. This union is magnificent and because of cultural distinctions between Jew and Gentile, it was especially difficult to put in place. Yet, through the death of Jesus, we all have the opportunity of being built into the dwelling place of God. We merely have to accept God’s gift through faith. This union (for this reason) was worthy of prayer then and remains worthy of prayer now as we are God’s message to the world.
Before entering into his lengthy digression about the mystery of Christ, Paul starts with a minor digression as he personalizes it a little with the words, prisoner of Christ Jesus. These words are applicable in two ways. (1) Paul was actually a physical prisoner of Rome when he penned these words. Paul uses the word prisoner to describe himself five times in his epistles and each time it occurs in books written when he was an actual prisoner (Eph. 3:1; 4:1; Phil. 1,9; 2Tim. 1:8). Here he adds the words for the sake of you Gentiles as he expresses his willingness to spend time in prison for the sake of this unifying Gospel message. Indeed, in verse thirteen he will write, Therefore I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are your glory. (2) Paul describes himself as the prisoner of Christ Jesus. Because he had voluntarily made himself Christ’s prisoner, he had been made a prisoner of the human government but Rome really had no power over him apart from what Christ allowed. He was first and foremost a prisoner of Christ because of his choice and as a result of that choice he had become a prisoner of Rome.
The applications of this verse are obvious. Paul uses the words prisoner of Christ to emphasize the fact that as he sat in a Roman prison it was Christ who was still in control. As we live through the events in this world that sometimes make us think that Satan has us imprisoned, we must remember that it is the One to whom we have committed our lives who remains in control. Through it all, as was Paul, we are prisoners of Christ.
By Stan Brown
Ephesians 2:22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.
The foundation of the building is the apostles and prophets with Jesus Christ being the chief cornerstone. The formation of the building occurs as God builds His holy temple with believers as He carefully and perfectly puts them in place. (For a minute or so I leave Paul’s analogy and construct a variation of my own. It seems to me that on occasion believers are not satisfied with the place given to them by God and using their free will wriggle out of where God has placed them and try to make a different place for themselves. God in His great patience works, as the Holy Spirit gently and sometimes not so gently nudges us back into place. OK, back to Paul’s analogy.) Paul’s thought here is exhilarating. Think about it. God has taken the care to individually place us exactly where we most naturally fit. We must be comfortable with His choice.
Now Paul moves on to the function of the dwelling place God constructs with believers as the building stones. Hoehner writes, “It is the habitat of God.” God has chosen to make His abode with us. There are two things of note in the phrase, you also are being built together. The first is that our loving God who is full of grace is the one who is precisely building the edifice in a manner that highlights the gifts He has given us. We seek fulfillment in our lives. God gives us that fulfillment as He gives to us His personal attention bathed in His grace and His patience. We require both. Second is unity. Paul speaks here of Jews and Gentiles being built together which might highlight the difficulty of the task but putting you and me together is a no less difficult task. It is also a task that requires grace and patience. When we look around, we might think that this unity is not going as well as it should. This is likely why Paul describes it as a process. God in His omnipotence could force the result but He chooses to work with each of us as He chisels away the flaws that need shaping. God cares enough about me to give me His personal attention in grace and patience. (I almost forgot. The word translated being built together is used only here in the New Testament. It seems that Paul is making a habit of constructing words to describe this wonderfully unique relationship that we have with God and with each other.)
Hoehner describes the dwelling of God. “It is not only a dwelling place but a deep and settled dwelling place. It has the idea of a dwelling place that is firmly rooted. It signifies the endurance and permanence of God’s inhabitance in the body of believers.” God is not giving up on us. He has chosen to dwell in our midst. He has chosen to do this in the person of the Holy Spirit. He has chosen to do this forever. The Holy Spirit indwells us as individuals whose bodies are God’s temple (Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? (1Cor. 6:19)). The Holy Spirit indwells us as a united body that is being constructed as the dwelling of God; that is His holy temple. God desires a relationship with us.
I come away from these three verses with an awesome feeling of the meticulous care that God takes in His personal relationship with me and the place that I must play in bringing glory to His magnificent name.
By Stan Brown
Ephesians 2:21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord;
We have discussed the foundation. Now we get to the formation of the building. The verse begins and ends with Christ. The temple is being built in Christ (the word Lord is used in Ephesians in reference to Christ (see also 1:2,3,15,17; 3:11). The sphere in which this holy temple is being built is Christ. After all it is Christ who died for us which allows us to be the building blocks of this holy temple. This building that is being built is a living animated building as it is built with the building blocks of believers. It is a building that is growing as believers are continually being added to it as they come to know Jesus as Savior. It is a holy temple. The word translated temple, when referring to the physical temple in Jerusalem, is used to refer to the place where God dwells in that temple. It is a holy structure because Christ has made the building blocks holy through His shed blood. It is obvious that God is the builder of that temple as Paul writes being fitted together. Today stone structures use mortar to hold the stones in place. In Paul’s day stones were cut to fit together perfectly without mortar. It is God who fits us together perfectly in His building. We are not thrown together haphazardly. We are molded and united by the Master Builder. The word translated fitted together is used only here and in Eph. 4:16 where Paul uses the analogy of the body to describe the unity of believers (Eph. 4:16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.)
I am struck by at least two things here. (1) The fact that God has chosen us to be united together in one unit. Paul uses analogies of both a holy building and a body to describe our unity and function as believers. In both cases imperfect humans are perfectly fitted together for His purpose. (2) I repeat what I said two verses ago. In his letter to the Corinthians, we are individually described as God’s temple, Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you (1Cor. 6:19). Paul pictures both individual believers and corporate believers as being God’s temple (We are His dwelling place individually and together.)
ALL believers are currently being built into the holy temple where God dwells. I cannot help but be amazed by this. God has chosen people to be the place where he dwells. We are imperfect yet He crafts us together into one unity in Christ. The imperfect creature that I see when I look into a mirror and often drives other believers mad is crafted into that building (In fact, that imperfect creature often drives me crazy as well.). The imperfect folks (about whom I may say, “unbelievers are easier to get along with than they are”. And they may say the same about me) are crafted together into the same building in a manner where we fit perfectly together. This may be why Paul describes it as a continuing process but nevertheless we have been chosen by God as His dwelling place. We have been chosen by God as His message to the world. I sometimes don’t know how He expects to accomplish anything using us. Yet, it is the God of the universe who has chosen us to work together with Him and with each other to accomplish His perfect will. He does not need us but He has chosen us. He is an amazing God.
By Stan Brown
Ephesians 2:20 having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone,
We, as believers of all ilks, are part of a fabulous building that never before existed and is continuing to grow as it is being built into God’s dwelling place. The body of Christ, of which we are a part, is a holy temple. In the three verses beginning in the current verse, Paul will describe its foundation (v.20), its formation (v.21) and its function (v.22). In verse nineteen Paul spoke of our being of God’s household. He now changes the metaphor as he describes us as the building in which God dwells. In his letter to the Corinthians, we are individually described as God’s temple, Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you (1Cor. 6:19). Here the metaphor pictures us as united together into one building being built into God’s dwelling place. As both individual believers and believers united together, we are pictured as forming God’s house.
Paul speaks of the foundation of that house. The foundation is bonded together by the chief cornerstone which is Christ Jesus Himself. The foundation is made up of apostles and prophets while we make up the building that is currently being erected on that foundation. First, I will tell you a practical application of this verse. We are being built on a firm never moving foundation. We need not worry about the fact that some new discovery will challenge the truth upon which we are being built. Culture always challenges it but it remains unchanging. Our foundation is firm.
Next, let’s build the building from the ground up. It begins with the cornerstone described by the prophet Isaiah. Therefore thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone, A costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed. He who believes in it will not be disturbed. (Is. 28:16). The foundation can begin with no One other than Jesus Christ. It is also interesting that the Psalmist describes Him as the one rejected by the builders. The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner (Psalm 118:22). Jesus is the focal point and the beginning point of the foundation of the building, indeed of the building itself. He was and often is rejected by people but there is no other like Him. There is no building apart from Him.
We then move to the foundation that is held together by Christ. Although it is true that all that is in the Old Testament essentially points to Christ it is likely that the terms apostles and prophets here refer to the truths proclaimed in the New Testament. This is suggested for at least two reasons. First, the order of the words apostles and prophets. Second, the structure being built here is a new structure that was never seen before. This is a foundation that is sure. It is held together by and laid in line with the chief cornerstone. We are built on such a foundation and no other. When the world and its fancies begin to play havoc with our minds and the culture berates us for our foolishness, we must remember the foundation and cornerstone on which we are being built. The chief cornerstone is still rejected by the swarming human hordes surrounding us but it remains the One on which the Creator of the universe has chosen to build His dwelling place. We can confidently accept the actions of and word proclaimed by the apostles and prophets as they are held together by the chief cornerstone.
By Stan Brown
Ephesians 2:19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household,
In the previous section, Paul has declared that believing Jews and believing Gentiles are united together into one humanity; into one body. This is a remarkable transition. Under the Law, the presence of God was demonstrated in the temple and the message of God that was to bring people from the world to God was found in the nation of Israel. There were many Jewish proselytes but they did not have all the same privileges as those who were born Jews. Paul states that this is no longer true. We are all one humanity in Christ. The book of Acts lets us know that there were struggles in getting there but does not change the fact that we are all members of one body in Christ.
In this verse, Paul speaks of the results of our union together in Christ. He speaks directly to Gentiles as he emphasizes the move that has taken place. The Gentiles are no longer foreigners living in a country possessing a permanent residency visa. The words strangers and aliens are similar in meaning and carry with them the idea that I have just mentioned. They had previously been believers on their way to eternity with Christ but were not considered by the Jews to be equals.
Their position as believers had now been transformed. They were now fellow citizens with the saints. This did not mean that they had finally gotten their citizenship papers as part of the nation but rather that they were born into the new form of the Kingdom in exactly the same way as the Jews got there. (Quick pause here: This did not abrogate the millennial promises but that is a discussion for another day). We all have the same access. We all have the same privileges. No one is more important than any other. We are all believers saved by grace through faith. We are all citizens together. We all receive the blessings promised to Abraham. (And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed. (Gen. 12:3)”)
The phrase are of God’s household takes it one step further. We are one with the saints of all ages and we will all live together as such throughout eternity. Hoehner puts it this way, “All the saints of every generation believed that God was involved with their redemption and reconciliation. They all had access to God and they all had fellowship with God and other saints.” I would put it this way. Believers of all ages are saved by God’s grace through faith. We are all saved through the shed blood of Christ.
So, what is the practical lesson for us? As believers of this age we are all one in Christ and live in the unity of the body. No one is superior to another. Let us love one another.
By Stan Brown
Ephesians 2:18 for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father.
What then, is the result of the peace that Christ preached to all and that is made completely available to all believers? Paul does not simply say that as individual believers we each have access to the Father (although that is obviously true), he also proclaims that as a collective body of believers we together have access to Him. After all Jesus said, “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst ( Matt. 18:20)”. The author of Hebrews declared, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near (Heb. 10:25). There is power in the individual access of believers to the Father. There is great power in the corporate access of the body to God.
Both our individual and corporate access to the Father are our continuing possessions as a result of the peace that the Son has proclaimed. The word translated access is only used two other times in the New Testament. Both speak of our access to God. In Romans, Paul states we have access through faith. (through whom also we have obtained our introduction (access) by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God (Rom. 5:2).) We may also approach God with bold confidence as Paul decrees in Eph. 3:12 in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him. Sometimes sin in our lives may cause some interference in the process but the access remains our continuing possession as we follow the instructions of John, If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1John 1:9).
The access we have is based on the working together of the three persons of the Trinity. Because of the work of the Son, we as individuals can approach the Father. Through the work of Christ uniting us in one body, we may together approach the Father. The access to the Father is through the Holy Spirit. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are all involved in the grace through faith initialization of our salvation; in our continuing access to the Father; and in our being united together in one body.
In this brief section that speaks of the uniting of Jews and Gentiles into one body (indeed, every believer of whatever origin is united together into one body) Paul has spoken of this union in four different ways. (1) we are (all believers) made one (v.14). (2) that in Himself He might make the two into one new man (humanity) (v.15). (3) we are reconciled, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross (v.16). (4) we both have access in one Spirit to the Father (v,18). It is through the cross that the enmity is abolished. We have access to God and unity with one another resulting from the peace proclaimed by our Savior. These are stunning promises amidst the confusion of the world.