Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 3:5a “Which in other ages was not made known unto the
sons of men,. . .”
From Moses to Malachi, passages suggest a future inclusion of Gentiles in the kingdom, but none of these glimpses gave a full picture. This reminds us, we cannot know the total essence of a Bible prediction until it comes to pass. We are told enough in advance to know when a prediction is fulfilled, and thus our faith can be enhanced, but we must wait till the accomplishment of a prediction to understand it fully.
When the Soviet Union recently fell, the Berlin Wall was not the only thing which came tumbling down. Many Christians’ dogmas regarding the future and the end of the world also collapsed. When trying to analyze the future based on scriptural information, it behooves us to walk humbly, for nothing sheds as much light on a prediction as its fulfillment.
Eph. 3:5b “. . .as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and
prophets by the Spirit;. . .”
The mystery which God long kept unto Himself was revealed to “his holy apostles and prophets” (see 2:20). The “apostles” were the Twelve and Paul. “Prophets,” close associates of the apostles, also received revelations.
Realizing the unique role assigned the “apostles and prophets,” our Godly forebears compiled a New Testament canon which included only books authored by apostles or prophets. The developers of the canon deemed these men “holy,” set apart unto God, especially with regard to revelations. In this detail, the “apostles and prophets” were kept from error “by the Spirit.”
There can be no repetition of “apostles and prophets.” With them, revelation ended, but their “revelation is ours no less than it was (theirs), and our responsibility to proclaim it is the same” (Boice). Let us avoid the selfish retention of information for which we criticize the first century Jews.
Eph. 3:6 “. . .that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the
same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel:”
Verse six gives the full content of this particular mystery revealed to Paul and the others. It can be summed up in three compound words, fellow-heirs, fellow-members, fellow-partakers.
Gentiles are “fellow heirs.” All that had belonged to the Jews as a people of God now belonged to believing Gentiles. The Gentiles became joint-heirs of an inheritance to which they had no claim by birth. God’s spiritual blessings are now bestowed on believing Jews and Gentiles alike, with no favoritism. All are equal sharers, receiving the same benefits.
Gentiles are fellow-members “of the same body.” A part of the mystery was the creation of a new body, the Church, in which all earthly distinctions would disappear. Gentiles would no longer have to come into the kingdom of Israel to be part of the kingdom of God.
No one in their wildest dreams conceived of this possibility, though Jesus taught it. “Other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice: and there shall be one fold and one shepherd” (JN 10:16). “The kingdom of God shall be taken from you (Jews), and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof” (MT 21:43).
Dreading the full implications of these words and recoiling from them, the disciples entered a state of denial. God, however, would not be denied. When Philip the deacon preached in Samaria with success, Peter and John came to investigate, and were forced to see that even Samaritans were being filled with the Holy Ghost (AC 8). Peter later had a vision (AC 10). Paul was convinced in this matter directly by God on Damascus Road (AC 26:18).
God eventually got His message across. Believing Jews and Gentiles are “of the same body,” equal in every way–no superiority, no inferiority, all one in Jesus. All body parts are equally in a body. None is more “in” than any other. The Church is not merely an alliance, nor only a place of friendliness, but rather a body based on complete and permanent fusion.
Gentiles are fellow-partakers in all the blessings procured by the promised Messiah. We are fellow-heirs and fellow-members because we know the same Christ. All the promises were fulfilled in Jesus and are shared with Gentiles by the telling of the gospel. Gentiles bask in the fulfillment of promises which in the past had not even been told to them.
Christ said His work was for all. “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (MK 16:15). “Ye shall be witnesses unto me. . .to the uttermost part of the earth” (AC 1:8). Again, despite Jesus’ words, the disciples missed it. Who could ever believe people who had been so long in the dark, and at so great a distance, would be enlightened by God and made nigh? Learn never to give up on even the worst and hardest sinner. Nothing is too hard for God’s power to do. No one is too lost for God’s love to find or too unworthy for God’s grace to reach.
Eph. 3:7a “Whereof I was made a minister,. . .”
Paul “was made” a minister. God did it. The Apostle saw his task as an assignment from God’s hand. Genuine ordination comes only from God. We put our hands on a man’s head, but only God touches the heart.
His role was “diakonos,” servant, “minister.” This term, the source of our word “deacon,” referred to one who waited on tables. The word carries the ideas of activity and subordination. A “diakonos” serves in the interest and behalf of others, and acting on the command of others, recognizes a higher power. Paul saw himself as God’s servant to the Gentiles.
Paul knew this was not like him. He had been earlier driven by forces meaner and less humble. He knew a power source emanating from outside himself was activating him and animating his new life. . . .
Eph. 3:7b “. . .according to the gift of the grace of God given unto
me by the effectual working of his power.”
These words were Paul’s way of saying, “God deserves all the credit for everything I accomplish.” Paul fully understood the successful discharge of his ministry was made possible solely by the ongoing flow of God’s energizing power within him. All his life, from the Damascus Road to Nero’s dungeon, could be explained only on the basis of power beyond himself.
God saved Paul, called him to preach, told him what to say, commissioned him a missionary to Gentiles, sent him on his way, and then enabled it all to happen by providing Paul a power source which operated unabated to the end of his earthly life. He was changed from murderer to minister, from Pharisee to preacher to Gentiles, from arrogance to awe, from fame to abuse–the same power which made this initial transformation possible also impelled his message, his mission, and his success. The power was present not only at the first, but continued without ceasing and without depletion.
The task of service and evangelization assigned to Paul required more than mere human strength. We believers of today are also called to the same task, and it still requires miracle-power. “To lose dependence is to lose everything” (MacArthur), for we cannot labor effectively in our own strength. Ours is the work “of” the Lord, in the sense of being work not only “for” Him, but also “from” Him. To work in our strength is to compete with God, to rival Him, to rob Him of a role He reserves unto Himself.
Working in our strength decreases our successes. An ounce of God’s touch far outweighs a ton of human effort. Working in our strength instead of God’s is like using a hand-saw rather than a power-saw.
Our greatest need as Christians is to be ever dependent on the Holy Spirit in everything we do. God keep us from thinking too highly of ourselves. Beware the rewards this world supremely values–personal ambition, power, position, prominence. These are extremely dangerous when bestowed on a Christian. They can easily cause one to think too highly of self. The ultimate price one has to pay for success before God is never-ending humility and a never-ending confession of personal weakness.
Absolute, uninterrupted dependence on God is our only safeguard. Our greatest danger is not falling from a Spirit-filled life directly into open sin. The worst peril is quietly slipping from doing good things in the Spirit to doing good things in the flesh. The latter position is the dropping off point into sin. Remain ever mindful of your need for the Spirit’s power.
In 1808 a grand performance of Haydn’s oratorio “Creation” took place in Vienna. The old, frail composer had to be brought to the theater in a wheelchair. At his side sat a princess of the house of Esterhazy. This was the last time the great father of the symphony ever appeared in public. The crowd seemed to sense the drama of the evening. As the chorus and orchestra reached a climax in the words, “And there was light,” the crowd could contain itself no longer and burst into applause. The applause was directed to the composer, but Haydn was unsettled by it all. Mustering all his strength, he lifted himself to his feet, crying out as loud as he could, “No, no! not from me,” and pointing upward, “but from thence–from heaven above–comes all!” He then collapsed and had to be carried from the hall. These were his last words ever uttered in public. To the end Haydn recognized God as the true source of his abilities.
This is the point Paul made here. All is from God. Keep this uppermost in our minds. Regular prayer and reading of Scripture truly do matter, for it is important to express our dependence at every opportunity.