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In Ephesians chapter 2 we are presented with God’s view of the church.
Not only is the church a trophy to the "exceeding riches of his grace", but it is very unique in its structure.
Yes, as we enter this "holy temple in the Lord", we are struck by the fact that there is no middle wall of partition separating Jews and Gentiles.
And this very interesting feature, like the church itself, has been a mystery, hidden in the mind of God throughout the ages.
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Let's take a few moments to talk about God's mysteries as they appear in scripture.
A mystery is a truth hidden in the mind of God until such a time that it is revealed through His holy apostles and prophets.
I believe there are about 11 mysteries in the New Testament scriptures of which one of them is the Church.
And like all the rest, the church has been "kept secret since the world began", to be revealed in all its splendour on the day of Pentecost.
No, in spite of
what some people might think, the church does not appear in the Old Testament
Scriptures, nor can it claim
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However, even though the church did not appear until the day of Pentecost, Jesus opened the door to God's secret ever so slightly during His earthly sojourn.
Remember the time when Peter said, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God".
Actually, God had given him a special insight to which Jesus responded, "and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
Also, during one of Jesus’ parables concerning the Good Shepherd, He alluded to the church’s unique makeup.
Remember His words in John 10:3, "--- and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out."
He was referring to
the remnant in
Eventually, these same individuals would become the nucleus of the church.
And in V16 of this same chapter, He adds this comment --- "And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: (referring to the Gentiles) them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd."
That's when He revealed the unique makeup of the church.
It would be drawn from two folds, and become "one fold" with "one shepherd."
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In last week's lesson, we talked about the doctrinal foundation of the church laid down in the New Testament scriptures.
Certainly, God used some of Jesus’ disciples, along with a few others, to record the New Testament scriptures, but none so extensively as the Apostle Paul.
In fact, the doctrine, position, walk, and destiny of the church have all flowed out from his pen.
And as we observed in our last lesson, Ephesians chapter 2 documents the Gentiles’ full membership in Christ’s church, and on an equal basis.
No, they were not to be second-class citizens in God’s family, but "--- fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel:"
And that particular truth, which was so dear to Paul's heart, reappears in chapter 3 --- this time in the form of a parenthesis.
Well, sort of a parenthesis.
You see, it wasn't enclosed in brackets, which would be usual in such a case, but in every other way it looks very much like a parenthesis.
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Now, I'm sure most of you know what a parenthesis is, but for the benefit of those who might not, I will include an example.
Supposing I said, "I went sailing in a catamaran to a tropical island", and then, inserted some additional information concerning the physical makeup of a catamaran.
This additional information would be called a parenthesis, and should be enclosed in brackets.
Grammatically speaking, the sentence would be complete without it, but some important information would be missing.
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In Paul's case, the principal subject of chapter 3 is his prayer for the Ephesians.
And then, right in the middle of this chapter, he inserts some additional information concerning the mystery he had been talking about in chapter 2.
And since he didn't enclose it in brackets, let me suggest where I think it begins and ends.
In V1, Paul prefaces his prayer with the words --- "For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles," --- and then continues, in V14, "-- bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ", and so on.
In between verses 1 and 14, he explains the nature of the mystery contained in Chapter 2 and his involvement in it.
So, let's read Paul's parenthesis in its entirety.
Eph. 3:2-13 "If ye have heard of the dispensation of the
grace of God which is given me to youward:
In V3 Paul makes this statement --- "that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words ---".
But then, in V5-6,
he adds --- "as it is now revealed
unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit;
So then, he isn't claiming exclusive revelation, but he is claiming direct revelation.
Gal.1:11-12, he defends this point --- "But
I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after
And then, jumping down
to V17-18, "Neither went I up to
So the bottom line is that Paul wasn't a student of the apostles.
He was a student of God by direct revelation.
In the solitudes of
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And then Paul says, in Eph.3:7, "Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power."
So you see --- God hadn't given him this special revelation in order to keep it under a bushel.
He was to be God’s minister to the Gentiles.
And "by the effectual working of his power" he was to proclaim the good news far and wide.
It was a high calling, but it was a calling that would exact a heavy price.
In Ephesians 3:1, he refers to himself as "--- Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles," and he wasn't kidding.
In fact, this very epistle was written in a Roman prison.
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So, let's take a few moments to review the events that led up to Paul's imprisonment.
As the book of Acts
records, Paul spent a good deal of time in the Roman province of Asia, and
while there, great multitudes of Gentiles, including those in
However, even though his converts were predominantly Gentile, he hadn't been neglectful of God's Chosen People.
Following the principle of "to the Jew first, and also to the Greek", he had made it a priority to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to the local Jewish population.
However, as was usually the case, when the Jews rejected his message, he turned to the Gentiles.
So, as time went on, an increasing number of Gentiles were added to the faith, and an increasing number of Asian Jews became his mortal enemies.
Yes, they looked upon him as a despicable traitor.
Here was a Pharisee who had zealously persecuted the church, and now he was standing with them, and even proclaiming that abominable doctrine that Gentiles could have direct access to their God.
And I'm sure that last proclamation was the salt that irritated their wounded pride most severely.
As far as they were concerned, they were God's Chosen People and the Gentiles were dogs.
How dare that wretched man preach such a doctrine!
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And yet, this very doctrine is contained in their scriptures.
That's right, even though the church is not mentioned in the Old Testament Scriptures, the ingathering of the Gentiles is.
For instance, in Isaiah 11:10 we read, "And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious."
And again, in Zachariah
2:10-11 "Sing and rejoice, O
And again, in Malachi 1:11 "For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same my name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a pure offering: for my name shall be great among the heathen, saith the LORD of hosts."
Nevertheless, they had managed to overlook all of these scriptures, and labelled Paul's teaching a damnable heresy.
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And they weren't the only ones who had taken exception to Paul's teaching.
This new revelation was not too popular in the church either.
In fact, many of the Jewish Christians were convinced that the Gentiles should become sort of Jewish, being circumcised and accepting some of the laws of Moses, before they could become true Christians.
No doubt they were clinging to the old Jewish proselyte idea, but Paul would have none of it.
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So there was a
problem, and the whole thing came to a head when Paul visited
As you would expect, Paul made contact with the local church, and found the elders sort of walking on eggs.
Oh, they weren't opposed to Paul's work among the Gentiles.
In fact, Acts
21:19-21 records --- "And when he
had saluted them, he declared particularly what things God had wrought among
the Gentiles by his ministry.
Now, as is often the case, this rumour was completely false.
Paul hadn't tried to dissuade the Jewish Christians from circumcising their children, etc.
He had simply insisted that the Gentiles should not be pressured to do so.
However, this piece of misinformation had stirred up a lot of animosity, and the elders were anxious to set the record straight.
Acts 21:23-24 "Do therefore this that we say to
thee: We have four men which have a vow on them;
Well, Paul agreed; and by doing so, he jumped from the frying pan into the fire.
You see, the Jews who
When he entered the temple to participate in this ritual, they jumped to conclusions.
Acts.21:27-29 "And when the seven days were almost
ended, the Jews which were of Asia, when they saw him in the temple, stirred up
all the people, and laid hands on him,
Again, Paul was being falsely accused.
He had brought Jews, not Gentiles, into the temple.
And even if he had, he wouldn't have taken them beyond the wall that separated the court of the Gentiles from the rest of the temple.
But, as is often the case, the real facts didn't really matter.
This false accusation started a riot, which in turn got the Roman authorities involved.
One thing led to
another, and in due time, Paul found himself in a prison in
And it was from that very prison that he was writing this letter to the Ephesians.
So you see, Paul really was "--- the prisoner of Jesus Christ" for the Gentiles.
But he wasn't looking for sympathy.
In fact, in V13 of this same chapter, he writes --- "Wherefore I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory."
No, Paul wasn't licking his wounds; he was rejoicing in his commission.
In fact, he was simply amazed that God had used him at all.
Eph.3:8-9 "Unto me, who am less than the least of all
saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the
unsearchable riches of Christ;
Yes, God had used him extensively.
In fact, He had used him so extensively that He must take the necessary precaution of giving him "a thorn in the flesh".
Paul mentions this in 2 Cor.12:7 --- "And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure."
Initially, Paul had struggled with this infirmity, but he had finally accepted God's wisdom in the matter.
He had also come to terms with the suffering he must endure as a result of his unpopular message.
Actually, his only
concern was for the negative affect his suffering might have on the believers
Eph.3:13 "Wherefore I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory."
And he was also concerned for their spiritual growth.
In fact, it was this same concern that gave rise to the prayer recorded in the rest of this chapter.
V14-15 "For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus
And God does have a very large family.
There are the Old Testament saints, and those in the bride of Christ, and thousands of believers who will be brought into the fold during the tribulation.
Added to this are myriads of angels who fill His courts with praise, and, of course, other heavenly beings.
And it was to this Almighty Father that Paul was making his request --- V16 "That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man".
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I am told that John D. Rockefeller, that great oil magnet and philanthropist, was in the habit of giving his caddie a single dime for a tip.
There's no question that he was paying him out of his riches, but had he been paying him "according to the riches", that young man would have gone home with his pockets jingling!
Well, Paul wasn't looking for a dime.
His prayer was based upon the riches of God's glory, and not surprisingly, on another resource that had been obtained in answer to Jesus’ prayer.
Remember His promise to His disciples --
"And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever".
So then, with complete confidence, Paul was asking --- "That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man".
When it comes to our physical environment, God has given us five senses to keep us informed.
However, when it comes to spiritual things, our "inner man" must depend upon God's Holy Spirit.
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And then Paul
continues in V17-19 "That Christ
may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love,
The real essence of Christianity is Christ living in us.
For 33 years our incarnate Lord lived among men, and then He returned to heaven.
Nevertheless, He still makes His presence felt through the lives of His saints.
And one of the telltale signs that Christ is in control of a believer’s life is a heart that is "rooted and grounded in love".
Now, the term "rooted" brings to mind a plant that is growing and developing because of the nutrients that are supplied through its roots.
So then, if a Christian’s heart is not rooted in love, there will be a complete absence of that beautiful fragrance of Christ wafting up to heaven.
That's what 1 Cor.13:1 tells us, doesn't it?
"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity (or love), I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal."
The other terminology used in this verse is "grounded", which is translated from a Greek word that gives the idea of a foundation.
And a local church that is not grounded on a foundation of love will soon lose its power.
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Also, it is only as
Christ dwells in our "hearts by
faith" that we will "be
able to comprehend with all saints what is the
breadth, and length, and depth, and height;
How else can we understand the breadth of God's love contained in Jesus’ words --- "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" --- as He wrapped His loving arms around the world.
And as for the length of God's love, it existed "before the foundation of the world", and it will continue to exist throughout eternity.
And then there's the
depth of God's love poured out at
As to the height of God's love, it brought Jesus all the way from glory to the grave, and has lifted us "out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay," and has set our feet upon a rock.
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Eph.3:19 "--- that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God."
That seems like a rather ambitious prayer, doesn't it?
Is it possible to be "filled with all the fullness of God"?
Isn't that kind of
like asking the
Well, Paul thought it was possible, even essential.
And if you look at the life of Jesus, you will see what being "filled with all the fullness of God" is all about.
In a word, it's about obedience.
Listen to Jesus’ words in Heb. 2:8 --- "Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God."
Phil. 2:8 "And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross."
And then, as we see Jesus staring into that cup of suffering, which we have filled so full for Him, we hear His words, "O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt."
Yes, experiencing "the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge" and being "filled with all the fullness of God", will lead us down the pathway of obedience.
Can we do it?
Of course we can't!
But Christ can.
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Eph. 3:20 "Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think ---".
Certainly there are a lot of legitimate things a Christian should pray for, but God "is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think --".
Look at Paul's life, for instance.
He wanted to visit
As a result, we have been blessed by the Epistles: to the Ephesians, the Philippians, the Colossians, and to Philemon, all written during his captivity.
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And then V20 ends with these words ---"according to the power that worketh in us ---".
And I'll stop right there.
Yes, it is God’s good pleasure to work through His saints.
Consider Peter, that impulsive hard to control fisherman, whom God fashioned into an outstanding servant.
And even Paul, that great enemy of the early church, was to be moulded into a unique vessel for His purposes.
Yes, God "is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us ---".
I'm so glad He doesn't limit Himself to our ineffectual plans.
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And then Paul ends the doctrinal part of this epistle with a benediction ---
V21 "Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen."
A basic guide to understanding Scripture is the recognition of the fact that God does everything for His glory.
And where, in this darkened world of sin, does God get the glory?
It is in His church, which has the distinct privilege of glorifying Him publicly down here, and will continue to do so throughout eternity.
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