Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 3:2c “. . .which is given me to you-ward:. . .”
“To you-ward”–in the direction of Gentiles. Why does Paul rehearse this theme over and over again? He loved it, and still could not believe it. He was amazed at himself. The fact he cared about Gentiles was to him marvelous, incredible. He who had been a fanatic Pharisee of the Pharisees was now proselyting Gentiles with a radical zeal. Joseph Parker rightly feigns Paul as saying, “I want to beat out this love into thunder-tones, that all the Gentiles over all the sea may hear the music of the divine love.”
Paul was driven, compelled, because he sensed his task was divinely ordered. Looking at himself, Paul could see only one explanation–God. Only God could have orchestrated this amazing paradox, this marvelous irony, this shocking turnaround. God took the A#1 blue-ribbon champion Pharisee and made him Apostle to the heathen. God truly has a flair for the dramatic. His ways are astounding, baffling, and always appropriate.
Paul probably was not given the assignment he on his own would have chosen for himself. Paul’s natural inclination would have been to minister primarily to Jews. He wished himself “accursed from Christ” for his brethren (RM 9:3). However, God had a different assignment for Paul.
The way Paul’s ministry came to fruition is a helpful study for all who are seeking a role in kingdom work. Saul’s call to a Gentile ministry was first given directly to him. On the Damascus Road Jesus told Saul his task was to go to the Gentiles (AC 26:17). This call was later confirmed to the local church at Antioch: “As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them” (AC 13:2). Paul’s ministry was also endorsed by church leaders, “James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars” (GL 2:9). Do not denigrate the role of a local church and its leadership in helping you find your area of ministry. A church and its leaders are not your masters or lords, but can be your helpers in this vital area. Do not snarl at a request from a church nominating committee, or scoff at a suggestion from a leader. Consider such matters prayerfully and seriously. Paul did.
God assigned home missions to the Twelve, foreign missions to Paul. B. H. Carroll, our Southern Baptist forebear, said this sounded like a good way to divide ministry–into home missions and foreign missions. Our Baptist ancestors usually knew why they did what they did. Their actions were based on method, logic, and Biblical precedents. Baptists are not bound by traditions, but before we cast away a program or method of our Baptist predecessors, we had best investigate why it was established, see if the need still exists, and determine if we have anything better to put in its place.
Eph. 3:3a “How that by revelation. . .”
Paul did not concoct his own message. His detractors accused him of fabricating this doctrine, but Paul knew better. It was not a personal discovery he could brag about, but a gift from God. Paul’s message was a result of “revelation.” The word is “apokalupsis,” which refers to an uncovering, a laying bare, a disclosure.
Paul’s message, like his assignment, was not of human origin. Having been a strict Pharisee, he would have never on his own begun to believe Gentiles were equal to Jews. Nor did he receive his theology second hand. It was not given to him by Peter or James or John (so much for Apostolic Succession). Saul, the Pharisee of Tarsus, became Paul, the preacher of Gentile equality, only due to divine intervention. A “revelation” was required to convince him. God gave Paul a task and qualified him for it by giving him a “revelation” which enabled him to know exactly what to say.
Christian truth is not a product of human knowledge. It comes from God. Our message is not ordinary truth. People desperately need the “revelation” believers have. Varro, a first century B.C. Roman writer, collected responses to the question, “What is the true object of human life?” Regarding what was deemed the ultimate good, he compiled 320 different answers. How needful is divine “revelation”! Without it men run at breakneck speed in all directions, franticly trying to find a cause and the meaning of life. We need “revelation” from God to tell us how to live, and what to live for.
Eph. 3:3b “. . .he made known unto me the mystery;. . .”
The “revelation” given to Paul involved the lifting of a Divine veil of secrecy. We think of a “mystery” as an enigma, something hard to figure out. However, in the New Testament, “mystery” refers to a truth which was at one time concealed and kept secret in God’s own breast, but was eventually revealed and made known. The words “revelation” and “mystery” go together well. For man to know a “mystery” of God, it must be revealed. A “mystery” cannot be stumbled on, nor found out by human reasoning. Without “revelation,” a “mystery” is unknowable, impossible to discern.
Once revealed, a “mystery” is not hard to understand. The “mystery” revealed to Paul was, Gentiles were to be admitted into the kingdom on the same terms with Jews, and were to receive an absolutely equal welcome.
This truth came to Paul directly from God and thus impelled him to action. Some accused him of presumption and rashness, and said he was going overboard, carrying things too far. His detractors believed a little less zeal on Paul’s part would be helpful. To counter such babbling, Paul pled Divine authority as the motivation for his task and words. He had an assignment and a message from God. How could he be halfhearted about it?
Eph. 3:3c-4 “(as I wrote afore in few words, whereby, when ye
read, ye may understand my knowledge in the
mystery of Christ)”
Paul now digresses from his long digression (vv. 1b-13) to insert a parenthesis. He had mentioned the “mystery” (1:9), and will now discuss it more fully. He sought not only to declare the “mystery,” but also to explain and amplify it. The “mystery” centered in the “Christ,” God’s promised Messiah. The long hidden purpose of God regarding Messiah was now revealed. “Christ” was meant not for Israel only, but also for Gentiles.
Paul received this word directly from God, and gave himself utterly and totally to the task of sharing with others what he had learned. He had no desire to keep “the mystery of Christ” revealed to him a secret. Christianity harbors no secretive elitist group. Our faith fosters no exclusive clubs. No one is left out. What God revealed to the few–Paul, the Twelve, the prophets–He meant to be shared with the many, with all believers. “The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever” (DT 29:29).
Paul held nothing back. He wanted his readers to “understand” his “knowledge.” In essence, Paul was saying to the Ephesians and to us, “You can know what I know.” We can stand beside him, analyze his words, and “understand” his “knowledge.” How? Paul explains, “When ye read.”
Paul assumed what he wrote would be read for the purpose of being understood. This is still a most basic assumption of Christian living. What has been written in holy writ is to be read, pondered, absorbed, and comprehended. God wants us to learn, to know, to grasp the truths He revealed to Paul. He wants us to be knowledgeable, to think on our own, to have our own understanding. “God does not want puppets, but sons” (Blackwood).
God seeks people who will be students of His Word, people who will pore over Scripture, as the Bereans did. Paul was bitterly treated in Thessalonica, and slipped by night into Berea. The people there “were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed” (AC 17:11-12a). Oh for more Bereans, for saints who love the Word and scrutinize its substance.
On a personal note, reading the Bible cover to cover each year is the single most helpful discipline in my own spiritual life. Reading the Bible is beneficial. Set aside time to do it daily. We should see ourselves as entirely dependent on the Bible. Its every word is determined by the counsel of God, and is the product of divine “revelation.” We have no saving truth and no definitive word from God apart from what Scripture tells us.
We often suffer from a lack of appreciation for holy writ. We take it for granted. Our reverence for it lags. Bushnell said, “The Bible is dull when I am dull.” As appreciative heirs, we should eagerly study the will. As grateful possessors of heavenly soil, we should gladly read the deed.
Unfortunately, familiarity truly does breed contempt. We must beseech the Spirit of God to keep us appreciative of His writings. We need to pray with David, “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law” (PS 119:18)–things wondrous, marvelous, amazing.
Would we be amazed if God spoke audibly to us? Scripture is as authoritative as any voice from Heaven. Some say they would be helped more if God spoke, but the Israelites heard God speak audibly, and right away sinned. Some say visions and dreams would be more effective than holy writ, but this contradicts our Lord, “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead” (LK 16:31). Read! What is written is enough for us. We need no more. I fear we suffer from a “Namaan complex.” We want the key to success to be something spectacular, and desire God to do something extraordinary. If you desire to hear God, you will hear Him “when ye read” the Bible.