In our last message on “The Mystery Solved,” we discussed the meaning of the Greek word musterion that is usually translated as “mystery” in our Bibles. I suggested that a mystery is basically a secret that God had never before revealed in any of His previous revelations, but that He has now set forth for our understanding and learning. This is important, for it helps us to understand that there is no one, overarching body of truth called “mystery truth” in Scripture. Instead, there are individual truths that God sets forth that He had never before revealed. The greatest of these truths, what we might call “the” mystery, is the one set forth in the books of Ephesians and Colossians in our Bibles.

Also in the last message, we had started studying Ephesians chapter 3, going through it for the purpose of learning what exactly this “mystery” is. We had made it through verse 6, where we learned the answer to this question. The great secret of Ephesians that had never before been revealed by God was that there would be a time period in which all nations would be blessed on an equal plane, rather than Israel being blessed first and all other nations being blessed through them. The nations are now joint heirs, of a joint body, and joint partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel. They are equal heirs, of an equal body, and equal partakers. The emphasis is on complete equality here. No one nation is now preferred above another.

Now, let us continue with our study of Ephesians chapter 3, and see what else we can learn from this passage that sets forth God’s great purpose for today.

Ephesians 3:7. 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.

Paul here speaks of his commission to be a minister of the secret of which all nations are now equally partaking. The word minister here is diakonos, and means a servant or one who carries out another’s commands. Paul considers himself a servant, almost an errand-boy, of the secret that he is now setting forth. This position does not bother him, for this is according to the gift of the grace of God given to him by the effective working of His power. God’s power had made Paul a servant in this great work.

I wonder if we ever consider what a great thing it is to truly be a servant of God? The position of a servant is considered a lowly one, but the glory of a servant is in the greatness of his master. To be the servant of a great lord is a much more honorable position than to be the servant of some lowborn noble. So to be a servant of the great God and our Savior in something as crucial as the great secret of God’s work today is a most honorable position indeed. Paul considered it a gift, given to him by God’s power. We too should consider it an honor to serve God and His truth today. How little most are willing to work for or give up for the truth! Let us never forget what a valuable thing it is.

Ephesians 3:8. To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ,

Paul was given the gift (not the task!) of preaching among the nations the unsearchable riches of the Messiah. For now ALL men, not just Israel, could share in that Messiah equally. What a privilege we have!

Paul does not specify why he considers himself “less than the least of all the saints” here, but it seems likely that it is for the same reason as that given in I Corinthians 15:9.

For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

Paul considered himself the least of the apostles during the Acts period because he had persecuted the church of God before his encounter with Christ on the Damascus road. No doubt, that is why he considers himself less than the least of all the saints here as well. This should not be confused with his statement in I Timothy 1:15.

This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.

The word “chief,” the Greek word protos here, means “first,” either in number or in rank. In Revelation 1:11, 17; 2:8; and 22:13, the Lord Jesus Christ is called the “first.” In Luke 15:22, this word is translated “best.” It does not mean “worst,” though many have thought of this verse that way, and some have translated it that way. What Paul means here is that he is the chief, the foremost, the leader of sinners. Paul is our example, the revealer of the truth for today that is ours, and is the pattern that we should follow. Though he is a sinner, for us he is the chief of sinners. Yet he is less than the least of all saints, because of what he did before he knew the Lord.

Now to Paul, undeserving as he was, were love and favor shown, so that he became the one to preach among the nations the unsearchable riches of Christ. The word for “unsearchable” here is anexichniastos, and occurs only here and in Romans 11:33, where it is translated “past finding out.” The riches of Christ are unsearchable and untraceable. They are past finding out. I believe this is talking about the riches of Christ that are given to us in the dispensation of grace. In Colossians 3:3, Paul declares, “For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” In the dispensation of grace, our lives are hidden. This was not the case in the Acts period. The fact that someone was a believer was open and obvious at that time. On the day of Pentecost, tongues as of fire marked out the believers (Acts 2:3.) In the house of Cornelius, the gift of languages clearly demonstrated those who believed (Acts 10:46.) Christ enumerated five signs that would follow those that believed (Mark 16:17-18.) In the Acts period, who believed and who did not was not a hidden thing at all. It was open and obvious. Yet that is not so in our day. No one can just know by looking at you that you have life in Christ. There is no open or obvious sign of it. If someone tried to fake having life in Christ, it might be hard to tell the difference. That is because our lives are not open and obvious. They are hidden with Christ in God.

Christ is just as hidden to the world today as we are. Many know of the Man named Jesus Christ, but few are aware of exactly Who He was and what He was in the sight of God. As a whole, the truth of Who Christ is is hidden to the world. Yet that is not the end of the story. Colossians 3:4 assures us that someday, things will change. “When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” Someday, Christ will no longer be hidden. He will be revealed to the world. The word “appear” here is the Greek word phaneroo, and means to shine forth or be manifested. When Christ is made plain to the world, then shall we also be made plain. The truth about believers today will finally be understood by all.

In the same way, the riches that Christ gives us today through His grace are unsearchable. They are there. We are greatly blessed and enriched by the gracious gifts Christ offers us. And yet we cannot search them out. Even if we identified our blessings, we could not trace a clear path back to where they came from. We may believe that our blessings are from the Lord, but if we do, it is by faith. We have no evidence that could ever stand in a court of law that even one of our blessings came from Christ. And yet Paul assures us that Christ does have riches for the believer of today, though they are unsearchable. Yet when we appear with Christ, then we will come to know all that God did for us behind the scenes in the dispensation of grace. Then, we will see how blessed we really were!

Ephesians 3:9. and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ;

Paul was both preaching among the nations the unsearchable riches of Christ, and setting forth the revelation that would allow all to see what is the fellowship of the mystery. Again the word “mystery” here should be “secret.” Fellowship is a translation of the Greek word koinonia. Yet some texts here read not “fellowship” but “dispensation” or oikonomia. It seems likely that some copyist made an error here, and that “dispensation” was the original reading. If so, Paul’s grace was to make all men see what is the dispensation of the secret. I believe that this means that he was to reveal to men God’s secret dispensation.

This secret is not only that all nations are now equal, as he just mentioned, although that certainly must be included here.  It also includes the fact that God’s very dealings with the nations are now going to be shrouded in secrecy.  Even as God is dealing with all men in equality, as Ephesians 3:6 teaches, even so He is dealing with all men in secrecy.  Just as Ephesians 3:2 teaches us that God’s current policy is to act always in grace, Ephesians 3:9 teaches us that God’s policy now is to act always in secret. God does not act openly, and He does not act manifestly. We can see multiple examples of Him acting openly during the book of Acts. From the very beginning they were hearing God’s voice, seeing visions of angels, and being directed in miraculous ways. Since God began His secret dispensation, however, all such evidential miracles have come to an end. As Sir Robert Anderson pointed out in his excellent book The Silence of God:

“The Divine history of the favored race for thousands of years teems with miracles by which God gave proof of His power with men, and yet we are confronted by the astounding fact that from the days of the apostles to the present hour the history of Christendom will be searched in vain for the record of a single, public event to compel belief that there is a God at all.” (Sir Robert Anderson, The Silence of God, Kregel Publications, page 18.)

This is very true. No open, manifest work of God has been accomplished since God began His secret administration.  This is the truth of the dispensation of the secret that Paul wished all men could see.  How much I would wish that all men in our day could see this dispensation as well!

Moreover, the response God requires of us is also fitting for the dispensation of grace. Since God never works openly or manifestly, but only in secret, when we believe, it must be through faith without seeing. All who believe today qualify under the words of Christ in John 20:29:

Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

We have seen no evidence. We have not had any vision or revelation of Christ raised from the dead. We have observed nothing that could be classified as hard evidence that would convince us that the Bible is true. There is no way for us to believe based on indisputable evidence. When we believe, we must believe without seeing. Christ’s words in John 20:29 reveal to us that this fact means that we are most blessed. To be a believer in God’s secret dispensation is an impressive thing indeed. We have qualified as those who believe without seeing.

Then, Paul reveals that this secret dispensation was hidden in God, Who created all things through Jesus Christ. We must take careful note of this, for some have imagined that they have found this secret hidden in obscure references elsewhere in the Scriptures. Yet this was hidden in God, not in the Bible. The truth of God working in a secret dispensation was not revealed until God gave the revelation of it to Paul after Acts 28:28.

Ephesians 3:10. to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places,

Now, Paul comes to the purpose for which God is doing all this. Why did He suspend His kingdom purposes? Why has He chosen to bless all nations equally and jointly, rather than through Israel? Why has He begun a secret dispensation of grace?

In this verse, the Holy Spirit reveals that all this has been done to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God is being made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places. God’s purpose now is to reveal Himself. Yet this revelation is not primarily focused upon men on earth. This makes sense, for surely if God wanted to reveal Himself to us, He could find much better ways to do so than to restrict all His actions to secrecy. If God would work openly, then many more people would learn of His manifold wisdom than ever will during the time of God’s silence. Yet the main focus of God’s revelation right now is on the heavenly principalities and powers. These are the ones who are learning from what He is doing among us today.

Yet if we were to look at other passages, we would learn that, though the greatest lessons now might be learned by those with powerful positions among the heavenly beings, in time to come, God’s work among us today and the grace He is showing us will have an impact that goes far beyond this. In Ephesians 2:7, the Holy Spirit declares,

7. that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

The kindness God is showing us now in Christ Jesus will be used in all His purposes and plans to come to show how exceedingly rich His grace is. This was the reason God interrupted His kingdom plans.

Some might wonder whether God would really bring about a nearly two thousand year break in His purposes for this earth primarily to reveal a truth, no matter how marvelous, about Himself. Yet for one who is well versed in Scripture, this will be no surprise. God at many times and in many situations is represented as doing things solely for His name’s sake, or for His great name. Consider as just one example Ezekiel 36:22-23.

22. “Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “I do not do this for your sake, O house of Israel, but for My holy name’s sake, which you have profaned among the nations wherever you went. 23. And I will sanctify My great name, which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst; and the nations shall know that I am the LORD,” says the Lord GOD, “when I am hallowed in you before their eyes.”

In this situation, God says that He is doing something that He would not otherwise do, were it not for His concern for His holy name’s sake. In order to sanctify His great name, He will bring Israel back to their own land. This is just one example of God acting entirely for the purpose of magnifying His name. A study of God’s name and His concern for it in Scripture will make this plain.

Since God in many situations acts merely to promote His holy name, we should not be surprised to find that this is His primary purpose in the work He is doing among us today. The truth of His grace is a marvelous truth, and the glory of His name is a great glory. In His work towards us today, He works to exalt both, first among the heavenly principalities and powers, and then among all His creatures in the ages to come. What a privilege it is for us to be an object lesson of His grace!

The word “church” here is the Greek word ekklesia. It speaks of those ones whom God has out-called or out-positioned for Himself. In this case, I believe it has to do with Christ Himself. He is the One Who is truly called out and marked out by God. It is through Him and the use He is making of His grace among us today that the heavenly rulers are learning all that they are learning about God today. They are not looking at the muddled, stumbling, often ineffectual working of the organization men call the “church” on earth to learn wisdom. Instead, they are learning it from the One Who is the source of all to every believer, God’s Outcalled One Himself, Jesus Christ. We will consider this further when we get to verse 21.

Ephesians 3:11. according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord,

Since we know that this great work that God is currently accomplishing was not revealed anywhere in Scripture before it was announced by Paul in his prison epistles, we might be inclined to imagine that this work is related to an entirely new purpose that is completely unconnected to the plans of God that had been revealed in the past. But God here assures us that His current purpose is all still in relation to His eternal purpose which He already purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The word “eternal” here is the Greek word aion. A better translation of this passage might be, “According-to the purpose of (the) eons which He-made in Christ Jesus the Lord of-us” The word “eon” means basically an “outflow.” As I have said before many times, God is a flow-er. He flows out, in power, in love, in glory, in many of His great attributes. His plan is a flowing one, going from stage to stage and purpose to plan on into eternity. And his purpose for today is related to the same purpose of the eons that all His other works have been related to. The current work of God and His present intention are both related to the eternal purpose towards which God has always been working. His purpose, as we know from the rest of the Bible, is ultimately to bring all beings everywhere into an intimate knowledge of God, and that through His Kingdom on the earth and the final conclusion of this kingdom in the Day of God.  And this revealing of the manifold wisdom of God to the heavenly authorities is all in conjunction with that purpose.

Paul proclaims this purpose as already accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. Though we know that much of God’s purpose has yet to be worked out in the future, in Christ Jesus God considers it already to be accomplished. And an important part of that work is His current revelation of His kindness toward us, and our being raised and seated with Him. God is still working on the same plan He has always had, though we might be in a different and previously-unrevealed part of it.

Ephesians 3:12. in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him.

Not only can all men now come to God on an equal footing, but they can come both with boldness and with confidence in their ability to access God. The word “boldness” here has to do with openness, confidence, and boldness, particularly in speech. The word “confidence” has to do with reliance or trust. In Christ we can share our thoughts openly with the Father, and have access to Him with trust through our faith in Him. What a privilege! That we, who are mere sinful men, can have confident access to God! What a great thing this mystery is.

Ephesians 3:13. Therefore I ask that you do not lose heart at my tribulations for you, which is your glory.

Paul, God’s chosen vessel to reveal these great truths, was currently going through many testings and trials. Yet he appeals to his readers based upon their bold and confident access to God not to lose heart at these things. Outwardly things might look bad, but before God they had every reason for complete confidence. In fact, his tribulations for them were their glory. The fact that God had chosen Paul and tested him in this way to show forth His grace was a thing of great value to the believers who had come to Christ in this new dispensation, and should be something they would hold in high esteem. It would be completely backwards for them to lose heart over that which should be their glory.

Ephesians 3:14. For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

Again the Greek word charin here is the word for grace, not for reason. It was because of this grace that God is not manifesting that Paul is now going to bow his knees in thankful prayer before the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 3:15. from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named,

I believe that the word pasa, translated here “whole,” should be translated “every,” just as it is in Matthew 12:25, among other places. God has more than one family in heaven and earth. All these families receive their name from God. When a man is named a President of the United States, he receives a great name from the people of the United States. They name him President, and he bears that name from that point on. In the same way, the Father gives every family under Him its true name, which is manifested in its truest and God-given character.

Ephesians 3:16. that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man,

Paul’s first great request for them is strength in the inner man.

Ephesians 3:17. that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love,

The idea is not for Christ to simply dwell in their hearts, but also for Him to be at home there. We know that there are many things that could enter our hearts that would make Christ feel not at all at home there. Let us guard our hearts, and what enters them, so that Christ could truly feel at home in them.

He also requests that they be rooted and grounded in love, the solid foundation for the believer today.

Ephesians 3:18. may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—

Paul’s prayer for now focuses on all the saints, that they will be able to comprehend one overarching truth.

Ephesians 3:19. to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

This is the knowledge God wants us to have today: the love of Christ, even the love that passes knowledge. By knowing at least something of His love, we can be rooted and grounded in love. And once we know His love, we will be able to be filled with all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:20. 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,

Paul begins his closing words in this chapter, which are a great expression of praise to our Lord. He is indeed able to do far more than we can ever imagine through His power at work in our lives.

Ephesians 3:21. to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

The Holy Spirit ends this great chapter of His present purpose with glory to God in Christ Jesus to all the generations of the eon of the eons. The word “by” here should be “in,” since it is the same word for “in” the church and “in” Christ Jesus. This is the passage that causes me to believe that Christ Jesus Himself is the “church” or ekklesia being spoken of here. In some manuscripts, the word “and” occurs between “church” and “by.” Thus, this would read “to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus.” When the Greek word kai occurs between two nouns that are in the same case, it often indicates that the two nouns mean the same thing, and define each other. We could translate this, then, “To Him be glory in the Church even in Christ Jesus.” This is how I believe the passage should read here. Christ Himself is the One through whom God will receive glory. We could strive to give Him glory ourselves, yet I think Christ is a far more reliable source of glory than we are!

So we complete our study of Ephesians 3. From this great chapter, perhaps more than any other, we learn the great truths of God’s present work, and the purpose for which He brought about this great change in His stated plans, introducing a parenthetical period in which He is showing forth the riches of His grace. His purpose in all this is to glorify Himself, and to make His grace known. And we are the ones who are privileged to be His object lessons of grace. Let us glory in the position we have been given, even as we look forward with hope to the day when we will receive our reward, and will with our Lord be manifested in glory. To Him be praise for all eons. Amen.