In the last two verses of Ephesians 3, Paul closes his prayer for the Ephesians with a simple and yet profound doxology – a word of praise about, and to, God Himself. These verses serve as a sort of “hinge” for the whole letter. In light of everything Paul has been describing for his readers, he cannot help but explode into praise to the One who has made all of this possible. And even as he praises God, he also paves the way for the practical instructions that will occupy the last half of this letter. By praising God, he encourages his readers to do the same, and then he spends the rest of the book telling them how to do that.
In Ephesians 3:16, Paul prays that his readers would be strengthened with God’s power through the Spirit who lives in them. This is a bold prayer. Can we even fathom having the power of God strengthening us? And what would that even look like? After making his request, Paul continues – in verses 17-19 – by answering those questions. Put simply: the reason Paul wants them to be strengthened with God’s power through the Spirit is because he wants them (and us) to have a real and intimate fellowship with God and Christ. It may seem odd to think of connecting God’s power and intimate fellowship with Him, but that is precisely what Paul does in these verses.
In Ephesians 3:14, Paul actually utters the prayer which it seems he began to utter in 3:1. If you look back at Ephesians 3:1, it seems as if Paul begins to say something before getting “sidetracked” by a discussion about the mystery of God and his place in proclaiming it. Because verse 14 begins with the same phrase as verse 1, it seems likely that Paul has resumed his thought after the “digression” of verses 2-14. And what was Paul’s “original thought”? Prayer. He was about to offer up a prayer for his readers. So as we look at the last part of chapter 3, we are looking at a prayer of Paul – much like the prayer in 1:15-23. This is a prayer offered by Paul on behalf of his readers that turns out to actually be inspired of God and useful to teach us. So what can we learn from Paul’s prayer?
As we have seen, Ephesians 3 deals with the grand purposes of God. In His sovereign time, God chosen to reveal the “mystery of Christ” to His holy apostles and prophets through the Spirit. This “mystery” is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the covenant promise. God chose Paul to be a minister of this message, and Paul’s task was to bring to light the mystery for as many people as possible since it was the purpose of God to show His wisdom even to the angels in heaven by means of His work in the church. God’s grand plan is – and always has been – to reveal Jesus and save sinners through Him. As verse 11 says, “This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord.” God has brought this great “mystery” to pass by sending Jesus to make it so.
But that still leaves this question: why do we care? Does this have any relevance for our day-to-day life? It certainly does – as verses 12 and 13 of chapter 3 make clear.
One of the biggest struggles for us as American Christians, it seems, is our radical individualism. Even in our devout spirituality, we are very self-focused, and we often tend to forget about the larger purposes of God that transcend us. In Ephesians 3:1-7, Paul declares that the mystery of God with regard to the place of the Gentiles in His people has been revealed. He also reminds us that we have a place in the proclaiming of that truth. The mission had captivated him and become the driving force of his life. Beginning in verse 8, though, Paul steps back and provides an even broader, birds-eye view of God’s plan with regard to the revelation of this mystery. God’s plan is much larger than just saving us, and we do ourselves, and the world, a grave disservice if we fail to recognize this grander perspective. We need to remember the larger purposes of God so that we do not lose heart.
In the first part of Ephesians 3, Paul is preparing to (once again) pray for his readers – much like he did in the last half of chapter 1. In the process, however, he seems to get “sidetracked” (obviously, under the perfect guidance of God’s Spirit) on the “stewardship of God’s grace” that has been given to him. This “stewardship” with which he has been entrusted is the “mystery” of the gospel. In 3:1-5, he discusses the nature of the mystery – that it was not made known to other generations but has now been revealed. Then, in 3:6, he lays out the content of the mystery – that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promises of God. Having said all of that, Paul then moves to discuss his calling as a “minister” of that gospel. He reiterates that he has been called to preach it. And in the process, he reminds us that our task – though it may be carried out differently than Paul – is the same. The mystery of the gospel has been entrusted to us, and we are called to proclaim it.
Paul begins chapter 3 of his letter to the Ephesians by speaking about the “mystery of Christ” which was revealed to him. As we saw last time, in 3:1-5, Paul focuses attention on the simple fact that the mystery has been revealed – without getting into the content of the mystery at all. In 3:6, however, the focus shifts from the revelation of the mystery to the content as Paul boldly declares: “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (3:6). In essence, the mystery is that the very problems Paul laid out in 2:12 have been radically taken care of through Christ. In 2:12, Paul reminded his readers that prior to Christ, they were “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenant of promise”. Now, however? There has been a radical transformation through the perfect work of Christ.
Ephesians 3 presents a slight shift of focus. It begins with Paul preparing to launch – once again, like in 1:15 – into prayer for his readers. Instead, he shifts into telling a bit of his own story. After spending two chapters laying out the glorious and weighty truths of the gospel, he now seeks to encourage and motivate his readers by pointing to his own example. And he begins – in verses 1-5 – with the incredible news that the mystery of Christ with regard to the Gentiles has been revealed – highlighting God’s glorious plan. After centuries and centuries of predicting and promising and foreshadowing, God has finally made known His purpose for this world in its fullness. Interestingly, Paul does not actually reveal the content of the mystery until verse 6. In these earlier verses, he is focusing on the nature and revelation of the mystery itself. This may seem unimportant, but it actually tells us a great deal about how to read the Bible as well as how God has ordained history.
In the last section of Ephesians 2, Paul sums up the message of the entire chapter with a resounding crescendo. After reminding his readers about their past (2:1-3) and what God did to deliver them (2:4-10) – as well as describing the ways Christ brought them peace (2:11-18) – Paul takes the time to sum things up once again. Paul wants his readers – us included – to truly understand the incredible blessings that have been granted to those who know Christ, and by means of three distinct images, he does just that.