- The Explore the Bible lesson for Sept. 29 focuses on Ephesians 3:1-13.
Secrets have special power in human relationships. The ability to keep a secret is considered one of the fundamental qualities of being someone who is trustworthy and loyal to their friends. Knowing a secret can make you feel special, while being kept in the dark about one can create feelings of being ostracized, confused, hurt or demeaned.
What is it about a secret that can create such feelings and division? I believe it is the sense of inclusion and connection that being in on such “inner knowledge” creates. When you know, you are a part of something, you are special, and you are important.
In Ephesians 3:1-13, Paul talks about a great mystery (more a secret than a riddle) that God has let believers in on. Interestingly, this mystery is about inclusion and community itself. For Paul, as in Ephesians 1:9, the mystery that God has revealed is that in Christ all things are brought together. In the present context, however, what is brought together are the Gentiles and Jews into one entity known as the church. This unifying work of Christ is something that previously was hidden but has now become revealed by God. But unlike some secrets, this one must be shared with as many people as possible, so that all people may become part of the inner circle of knowledge.
The Mystery (Ephesians 3:1-6)
Paul considers himself a “prisoner of Christ” for the sake of reaching the Gentiles. Whether Paul means by this that he has been “arrested” by Christ (similar to his thoughts on being a slave for Christ elsewhere) or has been arrested because of Christ is unclear. Regardless, he views his present situation as an opportunity to connect with a whole new people group who previously were effectively closed off from being a part of the people of God.
As he has done earlier in this letter, Paul uses a Trinitarian formula to express his central thought. The Father has worked in grace toward mankind, to send the Son as the unifier of all things, which has all been revealed by the Spirit. This revelation of Christ’s work has opened the door for Gentiles to enjoy the same benefits and connections that the Jews have had access to and moves in such a miraculous way that it can make the two groups one. The history of God revealed in the Old Testament has now become the property of all persons in a way previously thought unimaginable. Hence, the mystery has been revealed.
How does it impact your view of the church and salvation to realize that a major emphasis of it in the New Testament is the miraculous unity it is designed to create?
The Proclamation (Ephesians 3:7-9)
The application of grace to our lives and the resulting changed status of now being part of the mystery isn’t just about privilege; it is also about responsibility. Paul explains in these verses how God’s grace has made him beholden to others to share the gospel. The implication is not merely that Paul alone is under obligation, but that all who have experienced this salvation are. God has not left us to our devices for such a task. Paul says that we have “unsearchable riches” (3:8) in Christ. Such riches are not only the gift we receive from God through Christ, but also the resources necessary to share this truth with others.
What encouragement do you find in knowing that the very salvation we have been granted is also a resource to spread the good news?
The Purpose (Ephesians 3:10-13)
Why has God done all of this? Paul says quite clearly that God has done this so that we can make him and his wisdom known. But to whom do we make it known? Paul says this process is the conduit by which we make God’s wisdom known to the “rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms (3:10).”
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What does Paul mean? Generally scholars have proposed three possible meanings: (1) Paul is saying that the angelic hosts gain insight into God’s grandeur through the plan. (2) Paul is suggesting that demonic forces are given understanding of God’s plan so that they understand their defeat or are moved to marvel at God’s power. (3) Paul is saying that we share truths to cause human institutions and governments see who God is and experience transformation.
While there are examples of all three types of work in Scripture, Paul consistently has used this phraseology in Ephesians to refer to the demonic. The point seems to be, then, that the work of God in the institution of the church demonstrates his power over the enemy in such a thorough way that they are brought to a status of awe. In other words, the church itself proclaims his power and victory and shames his enemy.
So, what does this mean for us? Paul suggests that this thoroughly expressed victory proclaims God’s faithfulness, which in term allows us to function with boldness and faithfulness. God’s power on its own can be a frightening reality. God’s faithfulness on its own comforts, but doesn’t necessarily embolden us to action. The two realities together, however, create an empowerment that is unrivaled by any other resource.
Psalm 23:5 comes to mind for me when I read Ephesians 3:10-13. What other passages of God’s empowering in the presence of enemies come to your mind? How do such images work for you to build your confidence and drive you to action?
Timothy Pierce, Ph.D., is assistant professor of religion at East Texas Baptist University.