In Ephesians 3:1-13, the apostle Paul says this:
“For this cause, I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus in behalf of you Gentiles,— if [it] so be that ye have heard of the dispensation of that grace of God which was given me to you-ward; how that by revelation was made known unto me the mystery, as I wrote before in few words, whereby, when ye read, ye can perceive my understanding in the mystery of Christ; which in other generations was not made known unto the sons of men, as it hath now been revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; to wit, that the Gentiles are fellow-heirs, and fellow-members of the body, and fellow-partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of that grace of God which was given me according to the working of his power. Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, was this grace given, to preach unto the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and to make all men see what is the dispensation of the mystery which for ages hath been hid in God who created all things; to the intent that now unto the principalities and the powers in the heavenly places might be made known through the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he [carried out] in Christ Jesus our Lord: in whom we have boldness and access in confidence through our faith in him. Wherefore I ask that ye may not faint at my tribulations for you, which are your glory.”
In this passage, Paul is digressing from his main point that he initially sets out to make, which is found right after this passage. Why is he digressing? Because he has just called himself “the prisoner of Christ Jesus in behalf of you Gentiles”. When the Ephesians heard this, they would have been tempted to “faint at [his] tribulations for [them]”, or to “lose heart”, so Paul is explaining that, in reality, his imprisonment for their sake is their “glory”.
In the first half of this paragraph, Paul explains and describes his stewardship of the mystery, or secret, of Christ, briefly, then explains what the mystery itself is — that the Gentiles “are fellow-heirs, and fellow-members of the body, and fellow-partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel”. In the second half, he explains how he has been a steward of this mystery, and explains what the present purpose of his stewardship is in the world.
Here’s the second half, which will be the passage we study in this article:
“Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, was this grace given, to preach unto the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and to make all men see what is the dispensation of the mystery which for ages hath been hid in God who created all things; to the intent that now unto the principalities and the powers in the heavenly places might be made known through the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he [carried out] in Christ Jesus our Lord: in whom we have boldness and access in confidence through our faith in him. Wherefore I ask that ye may not faint at my tribulations for you, which are your glory.”
So, having just explained the mystery itself, here Paul moves on to his stewardship of it, and the purpose of it while he was living.
Paul begins by describing the steward of the mystery:
“Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints . . .”
What does Paul mean that he was the least of all saints, or holy ones? It means that he was the “chief of sinners”, as he says in 1 Timothy 1:13, 15:
“. . . I was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious . . . Faithful is the saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief . . .”
He was the worst sinner that the early church at that time knew to have become a Christian because he was the worst Jewish persecutor of the church at that time. And yet, Paul still describes himself as a steward of the mystery of Christ because to him
“. . . was this grace given, to preach unto the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ . . .”
Why does Paul call this task “grace”? Because it is an undeserved favor from God to him. And what is it? First, “to preach” this mystery. The Greek word translated “to preach” is the verb form of euangellion, which literally means “to evangelize”, or “to announce good news”. That is what he was doing when he preached the unsearchable riches of Christ to the Gentiles, or non-Jews.
But what does he mean by “the unsearchable riches of Christ”? First, these riches, or superabundant and infinitely valuable resources, are “of Christ”. That is, they are from Christ, or christos, the Anointed One, or Messiah — the Supreme Prophet, High Priest, and King. All eternal riches come from Christ. Why? Because He is the Source of all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge as the Supreme Prophet; He is the Mediator between God and men, and the believer’s Advocate before the Father as the Supreme High Priest; He is the Owner and Controller of the universe as the King of the universe; and He is the Son of God and Savior of those who change their minds and trust in Him for eternal life and the forgiveness of sins. All the spiritual needs of humanity are found in Him, and only in Him, and infinite riches of eternal delight and pleasure are only from Him. And how did they come from Him? By Him coming to earth to become a man, to die as one of the worst of criminals to be punished by God for our sins, to rise from the dead, and to ascend into heaven as the Lord of the universe. Why does Paul call Christ’s riches “unsearchable”? Because they can’t be understood completely, and they never will be understood completely. In fact, eternity will be spent forever enjoying the riches of Christ by His brethren.
But the grace wasn’t only to preach the riches of Christ, but
“. . . to make all men see what is the dispensation of the mystery . . .”
What does Paul mean by “all men” here? Well, certainly, he doesn’t mean every single individual in the entire world, since we know that not every single person has seen this dispensation, or administration, of the mystery. Rather, Paul means all types of men, since he’s talking about the communication of the mystery of Christ to the Gentiles, who are a group of people. So, Paul is saying that part of the grace that was given to him was to show all types of people, all types of Gentiles, the administration of the mystery.
But what does Paul mean by the administration of the mystery? In Ephesians 1:9-10, he tells us:
“. . . making known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he [God] purposed in him[self] unto a dispensation of the fulness of the times, to sum up all things in Christ, the things in the heavens, and the things upon the earth . . .”
The mystery of God’s will is the same mystery that Paul is speaking of in our passage. And what does Paul call that mystery?
“. . . a dispensation of the fulness of the times, to sum up all things in Christ, the things in the heavens, and the things upon the earth . . .”
In Colossians 1:25-27, which is part of a parallel passage to the one we’re studying, Paul again describes this mystery:
“. . . I was made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which was given me to you-ward, to fulfil the word of God, even the mystery which hath been hid for ages and generations: but now hath it been manifested to his saints, to whom God was pleased to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory . . .”
Given what Paul says elsewhere about the administration of this mystery, he must mean by this the accomplishment of redemption in Christ by God, or the summing up of all things in Christ, which results in the blessing of having Christ in people, and the hope of glory from Him. In other words, the mystery is Christ, and what He has done by summing up all things together in Himself, especially by reconciling both Jew and Gentile to God through His death on the cross in one body, and forming a new humanity, the church.
And why does Paul call this message a mystery? Because it’s that
“. . . which for ages hath been hid in God who created all things . . .”
Until Christ revealed this mystery to the apostles and prophets, it was a secret, and had been hidden in God’s mind. But why does Paul call God the One “who created all things” here? Here, Paul is simply reminding us that God is the Creator of all things and people, so He has the right to withhold anything from His creation that He wants to withhold.
But why did God reveal the mystery of Christ by giving Paul the grace to preach to the Gentiles the riches of Christ, and to make known the administration of God’s mystery?
“. . . to the intent that now unto the principalities and the powers in the heavenly places might be made known through the church the manifold wisdom of God . . .”
What does Paul mean by “the principalities and the powers” here? Well, first, we must understand that “principalities” simply means “rulers”, and “powers” means “delegated influences” or influences that are given the task of influencing people by someone else. But what, or who, is Paul referring to here?
Well, he sheds light on it in Ephesians 6:11-12:
“Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”
So, who are the principalities and powers that Paul mentions in our passage? Well, in this passage in chapter 6, Paul clearly is referring to demons — who are evil angels. However, notice that he says these “principalities” and “powers” are “of this darkness”. That is, he qualifies what kind of angels these are — “of this darkness”. In other words, Paul doesn’t use “principalities” and “powers” only to refer to demons, but to angels in general.
Thus, Paul is saying in our passage that one of the purposes of God’s gracing Paul to preach to the Gentiles the riches of Christ, and to make known to all people groups the administration of God’s mystery is to make known God’s “manifold wisdom” to the ruling and influencing angels in heavenly places, or spiritual realm — both holy and evil angels, but especially those that are holy, and worship God because of His wisdom displayed in the church.
But what does Paul mean by “the manifold wisdom of God”? Well, the word “manifold” just means “complex” or “multi-faceted”. Of course, God’s wisdom is entirely different from man’s wisdom, so it is infinitely complex, but insofar as we can understand it, we can see many facets of it. But what exactly is the wisdom of God? It is His way of doing things, which is the best way possible. And the Person through whom He displays His wisdom is Christ.
Finally, Paul says that this wisdom is made known to angelic rulers and powers “through the church”. What is the church? The word “church” is translated from the Greek word ekklesia, which literally means “called out”. Thus, what Paul means by the church is that group of people that has been, and will be called out of the world and the kingdom of darkness, and into the kingdom of Christ. It is through this group of people that Paul says the multi-faceted wisdom of God is being made known to the demonic rulers and powers. Why? Because the church is the group of people that is being most significantly effected, and most significantly effecting the most people, with the message of Christ, and it is the group of people that is the spiritual union of both Jews and Gentiles.
And how did God do all this to and through Paul and the church?
“. . . according to the eternal purpose which he [carried out] in Christ Jesus our Lord . . .”
So, Paul is saying that Paul’s preaching, and the church’s preaching, and the effects of redemption on the redeemed, are all according to God’s eternal purpose. What does that mean? That God purposed, or planned all of this before time began. Before God created anything, He determined that this would be the way it would be.
And how has God carried out His eternal purpose?
“. . . in [or through] Christ Jesus our Lord . . .”
Why does Paul call Christ “Christ Jesus our Lord” here? Because His name and titles all tell us how God carried out His eternal purpose.
First, God carried out His eternal purpose through Christ, or the Messiah. This means that God used the Supreme Prophet, High Priest, and King to accomplish the redemption and creation of the church. As the Supreme Prophet, Christ has proclaimed the final messages of God. As the Supreme High Priest, He has redeemed His people through the sacrifice of Himself — His bloody death on the cross for our sins — and now sits at the right hand of God, making intercession for the saints. As the Supreme King, He has taken His seat on His throne, and is now ruling spiritually over the universe, and carrying out God’s eternal purpose through His kingship.
Second, God carried out His eternal purpose through Jesus. This, of course, is Christ’s human name, and it shows us that there had to be a perfect, sinless, and indestructible human being to “save His people from their sins”. In fact, the name “Jesus” literally means “Yahweh is salvation”.
Finally, God carried out His eternal purpose through the Lord of the church. This means that He is the kurios, or Supreme Authority, of the church, and uses it to bring more people to faith in Him, and to glorify both Him and His Father on the earth.
However, Paul goes on to climax his explanation of how God has carried out His eternal purpose by saying that “Christ Jesus our Lord” is the One
“. . . in whom we have boldness and access in confidence through our faith in him.”
First, why do believers have boldness and confident access through faith in Christ? Because they are “in” Him. What does this mean? That they are spiritually united to Him. That is, that all that is true of Him in His humanness is true of them. Thus, because He has boldness and confident access, so do those who are in Him.
But what is this boldness? It could be literally translated “all outspokenness”. In other words, it means that those who have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ can be outspoken, free, and open in their confident access.
And to whom do they have confident access? To God the Father, as Paul says in Ephesians 2:18:
“. . . through him [Christ] we both have our access in one Spirit unto the Father.”
What does Paul mean that they have confident access? It means that they are sure, or certain, that they can approach God in prayer as their Father, and that they know that He is their Father. It further means that they know that they can talk to Him as their Father, and ask Him for things in the way He has commanded with the knowledge that He loves them, and will give them what they need, and what is best for them. More than that, it means that He acts toward them as their Father, and they act toward Him as His children. Thus, they not only have access to Him, but to the knowledge of Him, which is eternal life (John 17:3).
Finally, how do believers have boldness and confident access to God?
“. . . through our faith in him [Christ].”
What does Paul mean by this? He means trust in Christ as their Supreme Prophet, High Priest, and King, and the One who is both God and man, died for their sins, was raised from the dead, and became the Lord of the universe. It means trusting in Him, His death, and resurrection, alone for true life and God’s forgiveness of their sins. Because believers trust in Christ, they have boldness and confident access to God.
After explaining that has been given a stewardship of the gospel of the Gentiles, that he has exercised it, that it has a good purpose, and that it is all according to God’s plan and work in Christ, Paul gets to the whole point in what he’s been saying to the Ephesians:
“Wherefore [therefore] I ask that ye may not faint at my tribulations for you, which are your glory.”
So, why is he concerned again that they might faint, or lose heart? Because he’s in prison because he was preaching the gospel to Gentiles, and they are Gentiles. Hence, they might be tempted to lose heart about the preaching of the gospel to Gentiles, and think that it isn’t what pleases God after all.
Therefore, Paul asks them to not lose heart because of his tribulations, or troubles, for their sake as Gentiles. Why? Because Paul was given the ministry of preaching the gospel to Gentiles, and of preaching that Gentile Christians are part of the same people of God that the Jewish Christians are, and have everything that they have. Further, Paul asks them not to lost heart because God had a purpose in Paul preaching the gospel to Gentiles — to make the demonic rulers and powers see the multi-faceted wisdom of God. Finally, they ought not to lost heart because everything that Paul did, and everything that happened to him — including his imprisonment — was part of God’s plan that He was accomplishing in Christ — and they all still had boldness and confident access to God through faith in Christ. Thus, the Ephesians had no good reason to lose heart from hearing that Paul was in prison because he had preached to them.
In contrast to losing heart at Paul’s tribulations for the sake of the Ephesians, Paul tells them that his tribulations are actually their glory. What does this mean? Well, the word “glory” here is translated from the Greek word from which we get “doxology”. That is, it means the splendor, magnificence, or awesome display of something. In this case, it was the splendor, magnificence, and awesome display of who the Ephesians were in Christ. Who were they? Those for whom God had sent Paul to preach to them, and then to be imprisoned because of it. And why had He done that? So the Ephesians would become part of the new humanity of Christ, and share in His glory. Thus, the fact that Paul was suffering for them revealed that the message He had preached was true, and that they were indeed partakers of all the spiritual blessings that belonged to the Jewish Christians.
So, if you’re a believer in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, how does this passage apply to you?
- Like Paul, we ought to “consider others as more important than ourselves”. We ought to see ourselves as we truly are — servants of our brethren in Christ. We are only who we are by the undeserved favor of God, not because of anything we’ve done, or are doing.
- Like Paul, we ought to see our preaching of the unsearchable riches of Christ as undeserved favor from God — one of the greatest privileges imaginable.
- We ought to see Christ as the Source of unsearchable riches, and knowing Him as unsearchable riches. Also, we ought to see the Bible as the message of the unsearchable riches of Christ. More than that, we ought to recognize that we possess unsearchable riches if we are trusting in Christ.
- We ought to live to make people see the administration of the mystery of Christ — the gospel — in our speech and in our behavior.
- We ought to recognize that the church is a demonstration of the multi-faceted wisdom of God, and that one of its purposes is to display to the angels in the spiritual realm this wisdom, so that the holy angels will have another reason to worship God.
- We ought to recognize that the preaching of the gospel, and the building of the church is according to God’s eternal purpose, and has been carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord.
- We ought to have boldness and confidence when we talk to our Father because of Christ.
- We ought not to lose heart at the suffering of our brethren for our good, because it’s our glory.
If you’re not a believer in the gospel, then you have no riches, you are blind to God’s wisdom, you are an enemy of God, and on your way to eternal punishment for your hatred of Him. True riches and access to God are only available because God sent His divine Son to earth to become a man, to be punished by His Father for our sins against Him, to rise from the dead, and to ascend into heaven as the Lord of the universe. God is commanding you to change your mind and trust only in Christ, His death for our sins, and resurrection, as the only grounds of His forgiveness of your sins, and access to Him as your Father. Please change your mind and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as your resurrected Lord and your substitute on the cross, who died for our sins, or you will go to hell for your sins against God. He has promised that all who repent and trust in His Son will be forgiven completely and reconciled to Him as His children.