Paul has just defined what the mystery of God is (3.6) and now turns his attention to his role in making known God’s mystery as “a minister.” He will also give special attention to the church’s cosmic role in relation to the mystery as well.
The Propagation of the Mystery (7-13)
The church is steward of the mystery and makes it known in both the physical & spiritual realms.
7Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power.
Of this gospel…gift of God’s grace: Minister (Gk diakonos) is the word from which we get “deacon.” It was by grace that Paul was a servant of the mystery of the gospel.
It is still by the grace of God that we 1) have our current work for the kingdom & 2) carry out our ministry to the glory of God. The task to which Paul was called “needed no mere human strength and patience and power of endurance” (Foulkes 103). So too with us we need the power and grace of God in all our labor for the kingdom. Far too often we depend upon our own strength and power. What does that look like? Well, perhaps it shows up when we are grateful we survived another year of VBS without tearing off someone’s head. Is that really what we’ve been called to in the church? To survive? Or to thrive? And to actually enjoy comradery with one another as we rally around a common cause in a spirit of love. When we depend upon our own power, we merely survive thru church functions; when we rely upon the power of God, we thrive together being built up in love.
Which was…His power: “Paul gratefully acknowledged that all the power of his ministry was God’s, not his own” (PC 105). This is true both in the equipping for and the exercise of it (Col 1.29). “By the grace of God he was called and received as a servant of the gospel, and by the power of God he did all that was effective in that service” (Foulkes 103-104).
8To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ,
To me…grace was given: Paul makes a similar statement about his unworthiness in 2 Corinthians 12.11. Here Paul emphasizes all the saints, i.e. he is least in the church at large. This attitude is born out of his reflection upon the marvel of God’s grace working in his life.
There are too many Christians who view themselves as the greatest gift God gave His church. Barclay puts it like this, “The tragic fact in churches is that there are so many who are more concerned with their own honour and prestige than with the honour and prestige of Jesus Christ; and who are more concerned that they should be noticed than that Christ should be seen” (147). To which I say, “Please, hear Paul on this.” He calls himself the least which is not false deprecation. I believe he meant it and truly viewed himself as least. But when you really adopt the role of a servant and the mind of Christ, naturally (or supernaturally) you become least.
To preach…riches of Christ: Grace is not merely something to be received but to be shared with others and so Paul evangelized to the Gentiles with the glorious gospel of grace. The riches of God’s grace in Christ are unsearchable or “unfathomable” (NASB). That is, they are beyond comprehension and understanding. Yet Paul sought to search out the unsearchable. Cf. Job 5.9; 9.10.
9and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things,
To bring to light…the mystery: In addition to his preaching, Paul was enlightening everyone (Jew & Gentile) to the plan (Gk oikonomia, same word as v.2) of God in the mystery. So Paul’s function is to explain how God has dispersed His grace to both Jews and Gentiles through Christ.
Hidden for ages…all things: The mystery had been kept secret for ages, inaccessible because it was in God. God’s role as Creator is mentioned to not only affirm the existence of God or deny Darwinian evolution, but to indicate God’s purpose was hidden during those past times from creation until the New Testament church age and prepares us for the next verse…
Textual Note: Some mss have “through Christ Jesus” at the end of this verse, however, many of the ancient mss do not have these words, though it is a Biblical concept (see Hebrews 1.2).
10so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.
So that through the church: Now Paul addresses the church’s glorious mission and role in the grand scheme of redemption. This is the purpose of the church now established through the gospel.
The manifold wisdom…made known: In the blood bought body of Christ God’s wisdom is manifested in a myriad of differing ways. God is putting His genius & intellect on display not only for men, but for…
To the rulers…in heavenly places: Every created being is watching what God is doing in the church, being enlightened concerning His work in human redemption. While the church’s responsibility is to evangelize the world, the emphasis of this verse is on the spiritual relam. So God’s “master plan” has unfolded throughout this section: first, it was made known to Paul (v.3); then, it was revealed to the apostles and prophets (v.5); next, everyone was enlightened to the plan (v.9); finally, it was made known to the spiritual forces in the unseen heavenly realms (v.10). So Paul brings us full circle from where he started in 1.10: Christ uniting all things in heaven and on earth.
Some might ask, “Why wait?” Why did God wait until the NT times to reveal His master plan? Simply, to glorify Himself. Everything in heaven and on earth and under the earth has now focused on what God is doing through the church, uniting Jew & Gentile, all of them redeemed by the blood of Christ. But this work continues in history as God unites Sunni & Shiite Muslims, American capitalist & Chinese communist, slave & free, black & white, educated & illiterate, democrat & republican – all men into one holy body, the church. And the angels marvel. And the demons shudder. Because this God is so wise. Romans 11.33.
11This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord,
According to the eternal purpose: Literally, this is the “purpose of the ages.” It answers to v.9 “hidden for ages;” though hidden, God was still in history working out His purpose and putting on display his “manifold wisdom.” “Behind all the events of this world’s history there is an eternal purpose being worked out” (Foulkes 106). This is the reason some suggest we call it His-story. All of human history was driving toward the glorious entrance of Christ. Since it is the eternal purpose, it extends from eternity before time began to eternity when time is no more.
In just a few brief words, Paul puts to bed whatever notions premillenialism has concerning the church being merely an afterthought, a Plan B, a parenthesis, an audible called at the line of scrimmage. Christ’s church has always been Plan A in the “eternal purpose” of God. According to Paul in Ephesians, God planned a work and worked His plan; God purposed a purpose and accomplished that purpose in Christ and the church. See Job 42.2. Maybe Left Behind left out that verse!
He has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord: Jesus is the agent by which God “accomplished” (NIV) His eternal purpose. From eternity, God purposed that human redemption would be realized in the cross of Christ (cf. Rev 13.8). If the plan is both eternal and Christocentric, then Christ Himself is from eternity. Indeed, the three-fold name speaks to His eternality: Christ indicates his preexistence, Jesus points to His incarnation, & Lord shows His exalted position in the universe. This enhances our understanding of His work.
What an awesome love God has for His people that before He created time, He loved man. Knowing full well man would rupture that perfect relationship in the beginning and turn his back on God and fall helplessly into the hands of Satan, He loved us. And He loved us so much He devised to save us through Christ. However we say it, it is the greatest love story ever told.
12in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.
In Whom…with confidence: Here is a practical benefit of the eternal purpose of God: prayer. Lenski calls this the “crowning gift.” We have is indicative of the Christian’s present reality in addressing the Father. Though He is Almighty God whose purpose & plan encompasses time and eternity, heaven and earth, He is not aloof and far off, but we have His ear. Christ is our access to the Father (cf. 2.18). He is the reason we can have boldness (freedom to speak, even in intimidating circumstances) and confidence (the trust of being heard). There is no fear or shame for either Jew or Gentile to approach when they are in Christ.
Note that the word for “access” was a word used of the High Priest when we entered the Holy of Holies. So all Christians have what a scant few had under the Old Covenant: direct access to the holiest of all, even the throne room of God. This is the whole thrust of the epistle to the Hebrews, but see esp. 4.16 & 10.19.
Through our faith in Him: “Obedient trust in Christ is the condition upon which the blessings of boldness and confidence become reality” (Malone 47). In Christ “we have redemption through His blood” (1.7) and experience “the immeasurable riches of His grace” (2.7) which makes possible our access to the Father.
13So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.
So I ask…for you: Implicit in this request of Paul to his readers is that they were becoming or had become discouraged because the apostle to the Gentiles was imprisoned for preaching the gospel to them (cf. 3.1). So Paul makes a heartfelt entreaty to them to realize that his suffering is to their gain. Note: Some see here a prayer of Paul to God for these brethren.
Think of all the brethren the world over who are suffering for the sake of the gospel. Imprisoned, beaten, tortured, etc. for Christ. Like Paul, they are prisoners and yet are seated with Christ in the heavenly realms. What can we do? Lobby Washington to urge their release immediately? Sign petitions to be hand delivered to the respective ambassadors of the countries where these brethren are held? Pray for their release? Perhaps Paul could enlighten us: Eph 6.18-19. All Paul wanted from these brethren was that they pray that he would have boldness to speak when opportunity afforded itself.
Which is your glory: Paul’s suffering imprisonment for the Gentiles is the Gentile’s glory inasmuch as it shows 1) God’s immeasurable love for the Gentiles, & 2) enables Paul to rejoice in suffering for Christ (cf. Col 1.24). The Gentiles hear the gospel and Paul preaches Christ. Herein lies a glorious activity.