Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 3:1a “For this cause. . .”
This chapter begins with a sentence immediately interrupted by a long digression which will last till verse 14. Paul’s writings are characterized by detours. He often digressed from a line of thought to focus on a supplementary idea. His mind, ever energetic and in motion, generated thoughts rapidly and tumultuously. Paul’s style may often appear rough and disorganized to us, but we must not try to judge this giant by our dwarfed rules of rhetoric and syntax. He wrote in a realm far above the jurisdiction of any grammarian. Even Paul’s parentheses are nuggets of literary gold, infinitely more valuable than any statements found elsewhere.
“For this cause” (3:1a) begins the thought Paul returns to later, “For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father” (3:14). Here in verse one, “For this cause” refers to the building together of “a habitation of God” (2:22) in which Gentiles were included. Paul’s ecstasy over this inclusion of Gentiles has launched in him a rush of excitement seeking to vent itself in prayer.
Paul yearns to thank God for accepting the Gentiles, and wants to pray the Gentiles, in appreciation for what God has done, will live lives befitting their favored position. Paul could not go preach to the Ephesians directly, but did do what he could–he wrote to them and prayed for them.
Though a prisoner, Paul prayed for others. No particular suffering of our own should make us so wrapped up in ourselves that we neglect to pray for others. The most common command of the New Testament, the directive issued most often, is for us believers to pray for one another. We are responsible for each other, and are to nurture one another. A most important part of our mutual-nurturing is intercession. We cannot be with any person twenty-fours a day every day, but God can. Thus, we pray for Him to watch over and protect our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
Eph. 3:1b “. . .I Paul,. . .”
Paul suddenly stopped before praying. What sidetracked him? As he lifted his hands to pray, was his arm suddenly jerked back by a chain? Did the clink of iron remind him where he was and why he was there? This may have been a momentary, at-hand, reason for his change of thought, but the digression itself is built on logic and reasoning.
Paul directs the attention of the Ephesians to himself because he feels they will appreciate his prayer in their behalf only after they understand him better. What right does Paul have to pray for them in a pastoral way? He feels compelled to discuss with them the reason he thinks he has the right, yea the responsibility, to pray for them this way.
Paul knew the importance of establishing authority and credibility. People are concerned about a leader’s credentials. They want to know if he can be trusted. We must have confidence in our leaders, or their messages and prayers will be unappreciated. Thus, before Paul prays for the Ephesians, he directs their attention to himself for a testimonial.
Eph. 3:1c “. . .the prisoner. . .”
Paul’s first “claim to fame” is, “the prisoner.” Isn’t his resume off to a good start? This was not even his only imprisonment. He went to jail several times, received thirty-nine lashes five times, was thrice beaten with rods (2 C 11:23-25), and eventually died by capital punishment. Paul often ran afoul of the authorities, yet here we are, gathered on a Sunday morning, each of us holding copies of his writings in our hand, and poring over his words. We love Paul. We cherish Paul, and honor him as one of the four or five greatest men who ever lived. Yet he was in prison–a great man in jail for the greatest of all causes. The world was too corrupt to bear a man they could not understand, much less contain. Society is often too blind to recognize contemporary greatness. Fortunately, God has never judged a man by his ratings in popularity polls. Neither should the Church.
Eph. 3:1d “. . .of Jesus Christ. . .”
Paul is not saying he is suffering due to the cause of Jesus. He is in prison due to his ministry, but this is not the thought being conveyed in “the prisoner of Jesus Christ.” Paul depicts himself as belonging solely to Jesus, and sees his suffering as part of the lot assigned him by Christ.
The Apostle is in prison. It is not fun to be in jail. He has had to ponder his plight and wonder, “Why am I here?” In his solitude, Paul finds only one satisfactory answer. He is in prison because Jesus has ordered it.
The Ephesians probably viewed the Apostle primarily as a prisoner of Rome. Paul saw himself a prisoner of Heaven. Romans viewed him a captive of Caesar; Paul counted himself a captive of God. You and I deem him a prisoner of Nero, but to Paul, all his life, outward as well as inward, was “in Christ.” Therefore, Paul calls himself the prisoner “of Jesus Christ.”
Paul knew he belonged “lock, stock, and barrel” to Jesus. The Apostle, being Christ’s property, could never be a victim of circumstances. Paul knew he was, without Christ’s consent, subject to no one or no thing. He never ceased to be conscious of this truth. It determined all his life. Every deed, every relationship, every circumstance, was measured in its light.
Paul may have been chained to a soldier, but knew who his real Captor was. At his side may be a Roman soldier, a lonely symbol of a large earthly kingdom, but at Paul’s other side was Jesus, King of Kings in the heavenly realm. Paul knew who held the keys to the cuffs chafing his wrists. He knew who closed and locked the door of his cell. The outcome of his imprisonment, be it release or the death sentence, will be determined by One with nail-pierced hands, not by one clutching the scepter of Rome.
Because Paul had grasped this truth, we find in him no grumbling. He neither whines about his travel plans being changed nor does he sigh and say this is most unfortunate. We find no claim to deserving better than this, no mention of how hard or long he has worked. Paul, neither disappointed nor depressed, seeks pity from no one.
Nor is Paul merely a Stoic. He does not say, “Well, this is how life goes. Just grit your teeth, and take the bad along with the good.” Paul did not merely put up with his circumstances. He triumphed over them, a response often repeated in the history of the Church. Ignatius called his own chains “spiritual bracelets of pearl.” A man jailed in Bloody Mary’s persecution wrote, “Both the degrees I took in the University have not set me so high as the honor of becoming a prisoner of the Lord.” The French minister Guy de Brez, jailed in Tournay Castle, said the rattling of his chains was music to his ears. Triumph in adversity is part of our spiritual birthright.
This joyful attitude shown by Paul and others toward their suffering forces us to come face to face with how we deal with vexing and perplexing situations in our lives. In hardship, unpopularity, material loss, or difficulty of any kind, do we regard ourselves helpless victims of men and circumstances, or as vessels held and fashioned by Christ Himself? What or whom do we view as being in control of our lives? In answering this question rightly, we find the only adequate understanding of suffering. God directs events of our lives, thereby somehow accomplishing ultimate good.
Properly understanding this truth gave Paul inner calm. Had he merely viewed himself “the prisoner,” he would have found ample reason to sulk. However, fusing “the prisoner” with “of Jesus Christ” lifted everything to a loftier plane, and put suffering in a light which burned out all self-pity. Chains lose their shame when Christ puts them on us. Any reproach, when coupled with Jesus’ name, becomes a high honor.
We believers revere the name of Christ above all else. Thus, whatever we can attach to it soars in importance in our thinking. Have we done this with the perplexities of our lives? Have we deemed ourself “widow” of Jesus, “single adult” of Christ, “poor” of Jesus, “lonely” of Christ, etc.
Everything hinges on seeing self as belonging to Jesus, who oversees all events. Things are never out of control. We are never abandoned.
“Perspective is all-important. How we view and react to circumstances is more important than the circumstances themselves” (MacArthur). If we see only the situation and our grief, our circumstances drown us.
Our outlook affects everything. Barclay tells a story from the time Sir Christopher Wren was building St. Paul’s Cathedral. One day the architect toured the site incognito, and asked a man at work, “What are you doing?” “Cutting stone,” he replied. Wren asked a second man, who replied, “Earning money.” Wren later posed the question to a third worker. The man paused a moment in his work, straightened himself, and said, “I am helping Sir Christopher Wren to build St. Paul’s Cathedral.” There was all the difference in the world in these three men’s attitude.
How do we view our lot in life? Is it a chore, a hardship, laborious? Or do we receive our role as saints under construction? Do we see in our misfortunes the hand of God? Has our humble acceptance of them “as from a Father’s hand” reached Heaven as lovely worship?
In adversity, can we straighten ourself, and say, “I am helping God build a Christian conformed to the image of His Son”? When first hit with a hardship, we stagger a bit momentarily, but must eventually gain our footing and march forward. Nothing must be allowed to overwhelm us, or make us bitter. Even in the worst circumstances, we must rise to a plane where we experience and express joy. We must grasp Paul’s understanding of the Christian life, thereby lifty our view of things to lofty heights.