Grow in the Will of God, part 1

Paul began this epistle with praise (1.3-14) and prayer to God (1.15-23) before discussing what God has done in the church (2.1-22). He will continue to pray for his readers (3.14-21). But first he explains 1) the mystery of God, 2) his role with the mystery, & 3) the church’s cosmic mission.

The Revelation of the Mystery (1-6)

Paul had the mystery revealed to him & he delivered it in this epistle, viz., the union of Jews & Gentiles into one body. The Father (ch.1), the Son (ch.2), & now the Holy Spirit (ch.3).

1For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles—

For this reason: This phrase is in reference to the foregoing theological ideas just emphasized. As in 1.15, Paul starts a thought but is diverted (v.2-13) by mention, here, of the Gentiles.

I, Paul, a prisoner…you Gentiles: Not just “a prisoner” but literally “the prisoner,” as if there is no other. Paul is in Roman custody, yet he says in truth he is Christ’s prisoner. His imprisonment for (or possibly by) Christ is for the sake of the Gentiles; in fact, it was his preaching to the Gentiles which landed him in prison. He will refer to himself as a prisoner later also (4.1).

It is all in how you look at you circumstances. “One man will regard his prison as a penance; another man will regard it as a privilege. When we are undergoing hardship, unpopularity, material loss for the sake of Christian principles we can either regard ourselves as the victims of men, or as the champions of Christ. Our point of view will make all the difference” (Barclay 142).

2assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you,

Assuming that you have heard: Seems to indicate that the readers were unfamiliar with Paul personally, indicating that this was a circular letter among the churches in the Lycus River Valley. Several scholars do not see doubt, but certainty (i.e. “since…”); they heard from Paul himself.

The stewardship…for you: Stewardship (Gk oikonomian) was used in 1.10 for Christ. Paul had been entrusted with God’s grace which was a gift given to him (see v.7). He served to dispense that grace to the Gentiles through his role as apostle for you, that is, the “nations.”

In a similar fashion, we, brethren, have been entrusted with the grace of God. We have the gospel of grace. We must be faithful stewards of God’s grace by “dispensing” it to those around us (i.e. evangelism).

3how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly.

How the mystery: The musterion is the eternal counsel of God kept hidden from man for generations until the times had reached their fulfillment (see p.5). Here especially in this context it is closely related to the gospel being for Gentiles as well as the Jews.

Was made known to me by revelation: The mystery was made known to Paul at some point in his past (aorist tense). Perhaps Paul is thinking of when Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus and Jesus revealed to him “I am sending you” to the Gentiles (Acts 26.17-18). Cf. Galatians 1.12. The nature of revelation is some truth is uncovered or disclosed by special communication.

As I have written briefly: see 1.9-10. He now expounds upon his brief comments earlier.

None of us had a bright light from heaven blinding us and disclosing some saving secret like Paul did, but we possess the saving secret of God. As the initiated and illuminated of God, we know the mystery of God and can make it known not merely to men but also to spiritual powers in the heavenly places (see verse 10).

4When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ,

When you read [this]: This is supplied in English for clarity but is lacking in the Greek. When you read what Paul has written briefly (v.3)…

You can…the mystery of Christ: The word musterion is found 21 times in Paul’s literature with 6 of those in Ephesians (1.9; 3.3, 4, 9; 5.32; 6.19). He will explain it fully in verse 6. So Paul is safe in writing that his readers can understand the mystery just as he understands it.

5which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.

Which we not…in other generations: The purpose of God has always been the same though man’s knowledge of His purpose has been limited. The revelation of that grand purpose has been gradual; while the mystery may have been revealed in part in the past, now through the apostles and prophets it has been made fully known.

There were glimpses of God’s grand scheme of redemption, but the full glory of His marvelous plan had yet to be made known fully.

As it has now been revealed: What was once concealed has now been revealed by God. Again, God’s purpose to include Gentiles was not unknown entirely in the Old Testament (cf. Gen 12.3; Isa 49.6); but the full measure of God’s toward the Gentiles was not fully known until now.

To His holy apostles and prophets: Like Paul, these New Testament messengers have been entrusted with the sacred secret of the Savior. That the apostles and prophets are holy speaks to the dedication of their lives to and by the will of God (see 1.1).

By the Spirit: The Spirit alone is able to search “even the depths of God” and only He “comprehends the thoughts of God.”  But the Spirit is also able to teach in words so that man might understand the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2.10-16).

Why don’t we have modern-day prophets? Barnes explains, “They were persons endowed in this manner [i.e. inspired of the Holy Spirit] for the purpose of imparting to the newly formed churches the doctrines of the Christian system. There is no evidence that this was designed to be a permanent order of people in the church. They were necessary for settling the church on a permanent basis, in the absence of a full written revelation, and when the apostles were away. When the volume of revelation was finished, and the doctrines of the gospel were fully understood, the functions of the office ceased.”

6This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

This mystery is: These words are provided for clarity. Paul states the substance of the mystery.

Gentiles are fellow heirs: with the Jews, that is. The emphasis here is upon receiving an unearned gift, especially the blessings God has for His people (1.3) and the same inheritance (1.11-14). Note the present tense—Gentile are the following. This is present reality.

Members of the same body:  This is a single word in the Greek (susoma) and is unique to Paul later church writers. Literally it is co-body. There is but “one body” (4.4) and both Jews & Gentiles are part of it.

Partakers…through the gospel: The promise most scholars point to is that made to Abraham (Genesis 12.3) and is confirmed in Galatians 3.7-14. “They do not get this blessing indirectly through the Jews, or by becoming Jews, but directly, as Gentiles” (PC 105).  Only in Christ Jesus can Jews and Gentiles partake of this blessing; only through the gospel are they invited and admitted.

It is still “through the gospel” that we gain access to the promise, body, and inheritance today. We must believe, accept, and obey “the gospel of your salvation” (1.13) to be incorporated into Christ Jesus. As Christians, we need to value the gospel. “If we do not value the gospel as revelation from God, it will not impact our lives.”[1] Think of the parable Jesus told about the pearl of great price (Mt 13.44-46). We have that which is of ultimate value; it was all Paul and all we have. “We must give attention to the gospel, be defined by the gospel, and solve our problems by applying the gospel.”[2] And the gospel is not merely about getting to heaven; it is about life here and now as well as over yonder. It captures our initial conversion and our daily walk as disciples. It touches on our forgiveness and how we ought to forgive others. It speaks to God’s unfathomable love for us and how we ought to love one another. With so many implications upon life right now, it is no wonder Paul calls it “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (v.8). And then we gather with the saints once or twice a week and think we’ve got it. No, we only start unwrapping the gift here; you take it home and finish the job the rest of the week.

[1] Snodgrass 169.

[2] Ibid 170.

Grow in the Work of Christ, part 2

From the believers union with Christ (2.1-10) Paul points his readers toward their unity in the church (2.11ff). Paul’s emphasis is that in the body there is not Jewish and Gentile believers but “one new man in place of two” (v.15).

Access to His Blood (11-13)

Though previously far away from God by the blood of Jesus God has brought us near.

11Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—

Therefore: On the ground of your former, fallen state and in light of your current, exalted state…

Remember: present imperative. Remember what you were by nature (v.3) and what you have become by grace (v.5, 8).  Some even contend this therefore reaches back to 1.3; so Paul calls upon the Gentiles to consider all they have experienced from God through Christ.

That at one time…in the flesh: Though dead and made alive by Christ like the Jews, the Gentiles were distinct in the flesh, i.e. in regards to physical circumcision. That is, since they did not bear the mark of covenant (i.e. circumcision), they were excluded from the promises and blessings of covenant with the true and living God (hence, v.12). The present tense indicates this kind of behavior was habitual and ongoing.

Called…by hands:  The phrase ‘the uncircumcision’ was a term of derision by the Jews to speak of everybody who was not a Jew in the flesh. The Israelites were supposed to be a light for the nations (Isaiah 42.6; 49.6), but instead they treated uncovenanted people with contempt.

Who are “the uncircumcised” of our day and time? An updated version might talk about “the unbaptized.” I would hope, though, we would not speak of those unbaptized ones in a derogatory fashion, but rather with a broken heart speak of those who are excluded from the blessings and benefits of being an immersed one.

12remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.

Remember that you were: “Remember” is supplied to continue the thought. You were is the imperfect tense, indicating this was the ongoing situation in their former life before Christ.

Separated from Christ: or “without Christ” indicating that they were totally destitute of the favor and fellowship, the blessings of God. Suggesting perhaps even no interest in Him.

Alienated from…Israel: very strong language; they were shut out from the presence, fellowship of God. They did not have a country nor citizenship in the divinely appointed kingdom.

Strangers to the covenants of promise: that is, they had no share in or knowledge of the covenants of Israel. It was foreign to the Gentiles.

Having no hope: as regards the future, they had nothing to look forward to in the afterlife. How could they? They had no hope of the forgiveness of sin or resurrection unto life.

Without God in the world: Gk. Atheoi, from which we get our word “atheist.” The Gentiles had many gods. But Paul says they were “atheists” for they did not know the true God.

Some of us may have been atheists before coming to Christ. Some may have been hopeless, caught in various vices and addictions. Some may have been Biblically illiterate and “covenant” was not in our vocabulary. But all of us were at one time separated from Christ because of sin.

13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

But now in Christ Jesus: But now is a complete reversal of the preceding portrait. Only in Christ Jesus can the picture be reversed.  This is the gospel—Christ came to reverse our fortunes and rewrite our futures. He died so that the dead might live now.

You who…by the blood of Christ: There had been a wide, impassible chasm fixed between the Gentiles and God—the chasm of sin. But the blood of Jesus filled the chasm, spanning the gulf to bring them near. The aorist tense have been brought answers to the imperfect tense you were in verse 12; their lifestyle was an ongoing mess of sin until all-at-once they came in contact with Christ’s blood and everything changed. Cf. Isaiah 57.19

Our lives were unmanageable messes, just a constant stream of self-gratification and doing whatever we wanted. But then all-at-once and in an instant we came in contact with Christ’s blood at the baptistery and we came near God in Christ. Now our lives have become an ongoing transformation process.

Access to His Peace (14-17)

Jesus offers peace to all through His cross. Note: “One” is the language of peace.

14For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility

For He Himself is our peace: Christ is not only a Peacemaker, but He is peace; He has removed the enmity, thereby producing an atmosphere free from war wherein Jew & Gentile unite.

Who has us both one: Lit. He has made both elements one element. Christ takes two hostile factions (Jews & Gentiles) and by His blood fashions one body, one people, one church.

And has…wall of hostility: In His flesh Christ offered Himself as a peace offering to God for mankind. It is in that moment on the cross (aorist) that the dividing wall is broken down, the symbol of which was at the temple (dividing the temple from the Court of the Gentiles). When a person is at peace with God, he/she is simultaneously at peace with every other person at peace with God.

15by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace,

By abolishing…in ordinances: This is strong language which is easily misunderstood. Christ “renders ineffective” the Law of commandments in dogmas by His death on the cross. He fulfilled the Law and rendered it ineffective to function as a set of regulations to make Gentiles Jewish. The Law still serves as a moral guide (see 6.2, Paul quotes the 5th commandment), but the enmity causing barriers of regulations and rituals “in the flesh” has been invalidated “in His flesh.”

That He might…in place of the two: Jesus came to unite all men (contextually, Jew & Gentile) into one new man. Not by Greeks conquering the Jews or Jews forcing Greeks to convert; this is a completely new creation (cf. 2 Corinthians 5.17). New in more than just a temporal sense (time), but also in a qualitative sense (kind). This is a creation which did not exist before.

So making peace: primarily between God and man; secondarily between Jew & Gentile. With the removal of the Law came peace.

Why was there hostility between men (Jew and Gentile)? Perhaps the Jew, with the oracles of God, gloried in his position while the Gentile despised the fantastic rites of the Jew, namely circumcision (which was brought up earlier).

“One new man” – New in kind: Christ produces a new kind of person out of both Jews and Gentiles although both remain Jews & Gentiles. Chrysostom says that it is as if one should melt down a statue of silver and a statue of lead and the two come out as gold (Barclay 136).

16and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.

And might reconcile us…through the cross: Reconcile is friendship language. Previously there was a rupture in the friendly relations (b/c of sin); we became the enemies of God because of the enmity present (cf. Rom 5.10). But Christ has removed the hostility, taking it upon Himself in the cross, and there is a complete restoration of the relationship. Both Jew and Gentile in the one body (church, the new Israel) are reconciled completely back to God. Harmony is restored.

Thereby killing the hostility: When Christ is killed, the hostility is killed. “By His being slain, He slew it” (JFB, emphasis original). This is the hostility first, between God and man, and second, between Jew & Gentile (or among people generally).

Jesus is the answer to animosity among all races, ethnicities, factions, and peoples. The church is the single place on this planet where Jew & Gentile, slave & free, black & white, educated & illiterate, democrat & republican, the haves & the have-nots, American capitalists & Chinese communists are united and “one” (v.14, 15, 16, 18). Double reconciliation: all people to God in one body and all people to his fellow brother in Christ.

17And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.

And He came and preached peace: cf. Isaiah 57.19. Both verbs are aorist tense (snapshot). The Lord’s coming and preaching is somewhat debated: 1) Some say this is in reference His earthly ministry before the cross (Luke 2.14); 2) Others say what is in view is the event of the cross (mentioned in verse 16) as an act of proclaiming peace; 3) Some see the whole crucifixion-resurrection-exaltation as an act of proclaiming peace; 4) Still others see here the coming of the Holy Spirit since peace could not truly be proclaimed (esp. to Gentiles) until after the ascension.  “Regardless of what view one may take, the important point is that in the Christ event (life-death-resurrection-exaltation), peace was achieved and access to God was made possible” (Patzia 197).

To you who were far off: i.e. Gentiles. Cf. v.13. They were far off because they did not have the patriarchs, the covenants, the Law, etc. whereas Jews did and were thus near (see Romans 9.4-5).

And peace to those who were near: i.e. Jews. It is interesting that the Gentiles are mentioned first and then the Jews (esp. cf. Romans 1.16). Chronologically, the Jews were the first to hear the gospel and hope in the Lord. But the emphasis here seems to be that the gospel is for Gentiles and they were as near as the Jews.

Christ was the best and most balanced preacher to ever live. Let us reserve the title “prince of preachers” solely for Him. Not only was He the one to speak most about hell, but He also preached a message of peace, peace with fellow man (Jew/Gentile) and peace with God.

Access to His Father (18-22)

Christians are part of the Family of God wherein the Father dwells by His Spirit.

18For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.

For through Him we both have access: Access has to do with the right or opportunity to speak to someone. Formerly, only Jews had access and even that was limited (High Priest once a year into the veil). Now, in Christ and through Christ, all (“both” means Jew & Gentile) have the freedom to come to God.

In one Spirit to the Father: Christ has made it possible that we can address our Father in one Spirit, i.e. the Holy Spirit. So we have the Godhead presented in this single statement. Also, the Christian’s access to God is through or by one Spirit since we are united by one Spirit in baptism (see 1 Corinthians 12.13).

19So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,

So then…strangers and aliens: or “therefore.” Strangers is the same word as found in v.12. Aliens is a new concept which denotes a person who lives in a place without the right of citizenship. While the Gentiles were strangers and aliens (see v.12), there has been a complete reversal and they are no longer excluded from God’s purposes.

But you are fellow citizens with the saints: But (Gk alla) draws a sharp contrast. The Gentiles are now fellow citizens with all the rights and privileges that come with being residents of the holy nation of God. They have citizenship in the divine kingdom; they are residents of a “better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11.16).  With the saints could be an allusion to the Old Testament saints, the historic people of God.

Members of the household of God: Earlier in the epistle Paul said that they were adopted as sons (1.5). “You are not guests or visitors, but permanent dwellers in the house and members of the family” (Pulpit Commentary 67). The idea of the church as family can be traced through the New Testament (1 Timothy 3.15; Hebrews 3.2, 5, 6; 10.21; 1 Peter 4.17).

The drive to identify with someone, some group, some important cause is powerful and strong in each of us. Why do you think people (men especially) are such ravenous sports fans, even getting in fights in the bleachers with fans of the opposing team? These identifications make us feel important. They cause us to feel like we belong. This text (with the following verses) communicate to us and tell us we belong! We have a country and a kingdom; we have a home and family. We belong with God and are involved in what He is doing. This should shape our worship: we do not come as spectators to watch; we come to participate in the family experience, uniting our voices in praise and prayer, addressing and being addressed. We belong and are involved.

20built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone,

Built on…the apostles and prophets: Here is the third image Paul uses to show the Gentiles they are part of the eternal purpose of God: a holy temple (v.21). The Gentiles have been built (aorist tense indicates a completed action in the past) upon the firm foundation of the apostles and prophets. Here the OT prophets as well as NT prophets are those who are in view here (e.g. Agabus, Acts 21.10 for a NT prophet). However, word order coupled with 3.4-5 (the mystery now revealed) seems to emphasize NT prophets.

Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone: He is the cornerstone because “the whole edifice rests on Him” (Coffman). “The idea of chief corner-stone is that of regulation, pattern-hood, producing assimilation” (PC 67). If both Old & New Testament spokesmen (i.e. prophets) are in view, then Christ has been and continues to be the support for the saints of God, shaping and forming the community and her members.

 

Notice: the church is the people. We are the living stones. While our building is conducive to worship and other functions, we are the church. 1) Our assembly should not be viewed as a program in which a privileged few participate. In fact, we are all participate, worshipping our God who is present with us. 2) Ministry is for everyone, not merely the “clergy.” 3) We are all valuable & vital to the ministry and mission of the church.

21in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.

In Whom…joined together: As the cornerstone of a building holds together two walls, so Christ has joined & holds together both Jews & Gentiles in one church. The word for being joined together (Gk sunarmoloumene) is a double compound that Paul invents; it is exclusive not only to the NT but also to Ephesians (see 4.16). In the present tense, it indicates that this is an ongoing process. An architectural term which points to fitting exactly together and even enhancing in compatibility.

Grows into a holy temple in the Lord: Paul presents the temple as a living being capable of growth. This is similar to Peter’s “living stones” in a “spiritual house” (1 Peter 2.5). The temple of God will continue to grow and increase until the day of judgment. The word used for temple here denotes the place in which God dwells, where His holy presence (i.e. glory) resides.

Albert Barnes on “being joined together”:

The word used here means “to joint together,” as a carpenter does the frame-work of a building. The materials are accurately and carefully united by mortises and tenons. so that the building shall be firm. Different materials may be used, and different kinds of timber may be employed, but one part shall be worked into another, so as to constitute a durable and beautiful edifice. So in the church. The different materials of the Jews and Gentiles; the people of various nations, though heretofore separated and discordant, become now united, and form an harmonious society. They believe the same doctrines; worship the same God; practice the same holiness; and look forward to the same heaven.

22In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

In Him: That is, in the Lord Jesus Christ.

You also are being built together: present passive verb. This indicates that the process is continuous and the building is done by God. You indicates Paul is emphasizing the Gentiles; they along with the Jews as the church are being build together. Every part is of vital importance to the structural integrity of the building.

Into a dwelling place for God: connected with v.21 (a holy temple), these Christians are being continually fashioned into a fit residence for the divine presence. Formerly God dwelt in the temple in Jerusalem; now “the dwelling place of God is with man” (Revelation 21.3; cf. 2 Corinthians 6.16). Simultaneously, “what an awful thought, that the holy God dwells in our unholy hearts, watching us in our secret moments, and reading out very thoughts” (Pulpit Commentary 84).

By the Spirit: Verse 21 ended with in the Lord; now this verse ends by/in the Spirit. This reminds us that only in Christ, only in the Spirit are we said to be God’s place of residence. “None can have any true place in the eternal building of God, unless they have found life in Christ” (Foulkes 96). Also note that once again we find the Godhead all mentioned in a single verse: In the Son we are built into a residence for the Father by the Spirit.

When houses are built it is so that people may live in them. In similar fashion, God’s house (the church) is built so that He might dwell in it. When we abide in Christ, He abides in us (John 15.4). Further, the building is continual and progressive; it is ongoing. Construction never ceases. Consider our building. It started with just the auditorium. Soon classrooms were added. The west & east wings were built. The fellowship hall was renovated. The church offices have been relocated. New flooring was put into the fellowship just last year. Plus, there is general upkeep and projects to maintain it. So with the church, the construction is continual. There is always refining work to be done. New members are being added. The faith of some may need shoring up. When we gather together, we edify the structure.