Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 3:1e “. . .for you Gentiles,. . .”
The ultimate reason for Paul’s imprisonment was the declaration and choice of Jesus Christ (1:1d). The circumstance which prompted the imprisonment was Paul’s insistence to travel everywhere preaching the truth that Jesus died for Gentiles as much as for Jews. This above all else infuriated the Jews and fired their jealous hatred against him.
What was Paul’s worst crime, the one which most often brought him pain and persecution? He was victimized primarily because he stood up for us Gentiles. He championed our cause, proclaiming that the Gospel should be preached to us. We Gentiles have every reason to be grateful to Paul. It is only proper we still name sons and churches in his honor.
Paul endured affliction because he would make no racial or ethnic distinctions. God make us worthy of the blessed Apostle’s legacy. May we beneficiaries of Paul’s message of inclusion never become supporters of exclusion. A major blight on an otherwise noble ministry can be the limited breadth of one’s Christianity. Once a man or a congregation sells self entirely to one race, one ethnic group, one socioeconomic level, one party or denomination, to the total exclusion of others, they have choked the Gospel.
We are to have a broad outlook based on impartial love. Paul lived in dungeons and endured bodily torment rather than surrender one inch of this precious truth. Had Paul shown a little prejudice, and compromised only a bit, he would have received more honor and respect from the Jews.
Merely being silent would have enhanced his position and popularity. Avoiding controversy would have been the easy way out. However, Paul’s mission was not to be popular, but to preach the truth. He not only held to truth privately in his heart, he proclaimed truth publicly with his lips.
With bull-headed determination and bulldog grit, Paul held nothing back. Ministers of today should do no less. “His gospel got him into a prison, mine has got me into a palace. There is a suspicious evolution. We ought to smite ourselves with many a question regarding the kind of evolution through which we have personally and officially passed” (Parker).
We must preach and teach the truth, however disagreeable it may seem to others, and whatever we may suffer as a result. If all the earth foams and rages, if everyone else turns against us, if we are forced to lose position and possessions, nevertheless do right and speak truth. Better to lose houses and fame than to lose integrity.
Before we leave this first verse, we must be reminded again of its setting. Paul is going to pray for the Ephesians in a pastoral way (1:14), but is first giving testimonials as to why he has the right to do this. The Apostle is saying, “Listen to me, let me pray for you, my willingness to enter prison for your cause has proved I truly do love you.”
His willingness to suffer for them added credibility to his sincerity, and gave him tremendous authority. Paul was bound, but his message was free. His influence was spreading across the world because he believed in the Gospel for Gentiles strongly enough to be chained for it. How sure was Paul that Jesus died for Gentiles? Sure enough to be in jail for it, and later to die for it. Any man willing to suffer and die for a cause earns at least the right to be heard. In the final analysis, Paul’s physical bondage gave credibility, freedom, vitality, and victory to his spiritual life.
Always remember, in Christ we find life by losing it. Paralysing fear is the lot of any believer afraid to test the mettle of Christian living. Do not be afraid to face anything for the cause of Christ. Do not spend your life groveling in fear. Find release from such bondage. Serve Christ with reckless abandon, with all your might all the way. Yield everything to Him. There may be pain, ridicule, loss, but the end product will be total release, absolute freedom. In the lion’s den and the fiery furnace we find another Presence. In a jail at midnight we are able to sing.
Christianity is no wimpy or sissy religion. It is able to withstand anything. W. M. Taylor tells of a gardener who one winter received a valuable plant, the nature of which he did not know. Assuming it was a tropical plant, he put it in his greenhouse, but the plant soon began to wither. Another gardener saw it and immediately recognized the problem. The plant was an arctic variety. Taking it outside into the cold, he packed ice around the pot. The plant soon recovered and became strong as ever.
This story aptly pictures Christian character. It is an arctic plant, not a tropical variety. Ease, not difficulty, endangers it. Put us in a greenhouse, isolate us from the world, surround us with luxury, hedge us in from all opposition, and we find the surest means of killing our spiritual vitality. Quit trying to pamper our faith. Take abuse, stand for right, endure ridicule. Quit trying to avoid the very situations which allow the power of the Gospel to be released in our behalf.
Unamuno, the Spanish mystic, rightly prayed, “May God deny you peace, and give you glory.” In the days of chivalry, when the knights of the Round Table came to the court of King Arthur, they sought dangers to face and dragons to conquer. Their passion was honor and glory. Believers, seek not the road which leads to ease, pursue instead the path which goes to glory. The latter trail produces difficulties which provide us opportunities to prove the reality of our loyalty to Christ.
Thank you, Paul, for setting a wonderful example for us. Thank you, Holy Spirit, for inspiring this marvelous verse for us.
Eph. 3:2a “If ye have heard of the dispensation. . .”
“Dispensation” translates “oikonomia,” a compound word combining the terms “house” and “law,” and thus referring to the administration and management of a household. In a family, each member is assigned certain tasks to perform. In the Church, God’s House (1 TM 3:15), the Father divides the work, and assigns tasks to the brothers and sisters.
Paul did not choose on his own to become the Apostle to Gentiles. He was no presumptuous upstart. He was a member of the family, and like the other brothers and sisters, was given an assignment by God Himself. Paul viewed his role as a sacred trust, a divine responsibility. He was a custodian, a trustee, a steward holding something in trust for Another. As believers our job is not to be imaginative in finding roles within the Church. We certainly should be creative and innovative once we find our task, but the job itself should be something God chooses for us and gives us to do.
We are to pray, seeking our individual assignments in the “dispensation,” the house law. We are each responsible to God, and shall someday answer to Him directly. We will stand not before denominational leaders, a board of governors, Gabriel, or Simon Peter. We shall stand before God to give an account of our stewardship. Instead of a nominating committee or committee on committees asking us, “Will you do this?” God will ask us, “Did you do what I wanted you to do, and did you do it well?”
Our church has recently filled over three hundred positions of leadership. To all who accepted a role, let me ask, why did you do it? Do you have the sense of assignment from God, and thus the perception of responsibility unto God, which Paul had? If you took this work primarily to please your pastor, please quit. If you accepted a task solely because you want to be part of an exciting and vibrant church program, please resign. If you are doing this job only because someone begged you or no one else would take it, give it up. Never lose sight of our purpose. Our responsibility is unto God. Do not work mainly for pastor, church, or others. Labor for God.
Eph. 3:2b “. . .of the grace of God. . .”
“Grace” is God’s unmerited favor. Paul uses the term here to express the privilege of being given a task to do for Christ, and to denote that particular task. He saw his God-given job as a “grace,” as an honor undeserved. His task was neither a drudgery nor a burden, but a “grace.”
Every brother and sister in God’s family has a “grace,” a role of honor to fill (1 C 12:11). “When the Lord lights candles, He finds candlesticks on which to set them, and when He gives a calling, He gives a people amongst whom this function should be exercised” (Paul Bayne). Paul knew what his “grace” was. Can you say the same, have you found yours?
Everyone who has accepted a task to perform in our church, do we view our role as being truly a “grace,” an honor, a high appointment from above. If you see your task as lowly or as drudgery, look up. Catch a new vision of Him for Whom we are working. Each task is a “dispensation,” a responsibility, and a “grace,” a privilege. Duty and honor–these are the two motivations we must see behind the tasks we perform.
Can we remember times in our past when we had a deeper awe of the holy? Can we recall days when it was more of a joy to serve the Lord than now? Has the sheen gone off, the lustre faded? If so, it is because we have lost sight of one or both of these factors–duty and honor.
Is serving God still an honor, a high privilege? When asked to take a job, are we still filled with a sense of wonder, and respond by saying, “Me?” as if unworthy, or answer by saying, “Me?” as if the task is too lowly?
Is serving God still a duty, a sacred trust? When asked to take a job, are we still conscious of responsibility before God, or do we respond by saying, “Me?” as if the task is too time consuming, or too difficult? If the job is deemed too time consuming, our schedule may be filled with too many things of earth. If the task is deemed too difficult, pray and concentrate on, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (PH 4:13).