God’s Power Comes By Grace

Explore the Bible Series

October 3, 2010

 

Background Passage: Ephesians 3:1-13

Lesson Passage: Ephesians 3:1-13

 

Introduction:

 

Ephesians 13:1-13 reveals an intensely personal element of Paul’s theology and mission.  Building on his arguments in Chapter Two, he couched his thoughts in the form a prayer, a prayer centered on the mystery of God’s plan to unite Jews and Gentiles in the body of Christ.  The concept of “mystery” often surfaces in Paul’s writings.  Basically, “mystery” refers to the counsels of God which he had concealed from human understanding until the time of the apostles.  Paul relished the notion that the Lord had now revealed this mystery, and this revelation promoted the glory and praise of God.   It seems fitting that Paul expressed his theology of the “mystery” in the context of prayer (the substance of the prayer occurs in vv. 14-21—next week’s lesson).

 

Paul grew up in a highly segregated society where his Jewish co-religionists avoided any unnecessary contact with Gentiles.  The apostle’s pharisaic background heightened this segregation; therefore, it must have proven difficult for Paul, after his remarkable conversion, to embrace Gentile believers as his brothers in Christ.  Nevertheless, God’s leadership was clear, and the apostle devoted his life to evangelizing among the very people he once scrupulously avoided.  Though he did not abandon the Jewish people (he typically began his work, in each city, with a careful evangelistic effort in the synagogues), Paul focused his attention on preaching the Good News to Gentiles; indeed, the church at Ephesus seems to have been predominantly non-Jewish.

 

Paul’s theology had no ethnic or racial boundaries.  He preached boldly to all who would hear, and his theology demanded that all believers, regardless of their ethnicity, be seen as the unified body of Christ.  Racial distinctions have no place in the church, and, wherever such distinctions have surfaced among God’s people, they violate the apostle’s theology and practice.  Paul treasured this mystery, that all men, united by a common faith in Christ, may identify with the people of God, without prejudice or distinction as fellow participants in the grace and promises of Christ.

 

Dear readers, our beloved Southern Baptist Convention has, in the past, gravely violated the principles expressed in this passage.  Thankfully, the Convention has apologized for these inexcusable offenses, and, it seems evident, have made significant strides toward racial inclusion and the healing of the wounds of the past.  As we study this passage, I trust we will all consider ways we can continue to foster the vision of the church espoused by the Apostle Paul.

 

 

 

 

Lesson Outline:

 

I.       The Special Stewardship Entrusted to Paul (vv. 1-7)

A.    Paul’s imprisonment for the sake of the gospel (v. 1): “For this reason” points our attention back to the concluding remarks of Chapter Two, especially the analogy of the Temple of the Lord (see 2:19-22). Traditionally, Bible scholars have believed Paul was imprisoned, in Rome, where he awaited trial before Caesar Nero.  Note that this verse ends abruptly, as if Paul breaks into his thought pattern.  His enthusiasm about the mystery overwhelmed and disrupted his orderly expression of thought.

B.     The nature of Paul’s stewardship (vv. 2-7)

1.      This stewardship came by the grace of God (v. 2a): Paul laid no claim to personal worthiness of the treasure entrusted to his care; rather, God, in his boundless mercy, revealed these things to his unworthy servant.  From the point of that revelation, Paul became an instrument of God’s to the Gentiles.

2.      Paul’s stewardship had special concern for the Gentiles (v. 2b): The mystery was given to Paul for the Gentiles (“for you”).

3.      The stewardship, previously concealed from men, was graciously revealed to Paul, by the Holy Spirit (vv. 3-6): We find no claim that Paul alone received this revelation; instead, the prophets and apostles were united in their understanding of God’s message. The mystery centered on the equal privileges Gentile converts shared with Jewish believers, “fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ through the gospel.”

4.      Paul received this ministry by the grace of God, through the effective working of divine power (v. 7).  Only the transforming power of God could remake the prejudicial heart of the former Pharisee to become the apostle to the Gentiles.

 

II.    The Nature of Paul’s Ministry to the Gentiles (vv. 8-13)

A.    Paul’s unworthiness for this ministry (v. 8a): The ministry of reconciliation comes to all preachers, even the Apostle Paul, by the glorious grace of God.  No preacher is worthy of the stewardship of the gospel. 

B.     The centrality of preaching to Paul’s ministry (vv. 8b-10):  Primarily, Paul’s attention focused on the preaching of the unsearchable riches of Christ’s grace.  This feature of the apostle’s work did not preclude social concern for the poor and suffering, but it did center on the proclamation of the salvation of Christ.  This preaching did not involve any creativity or innovation by the apostle.  His task, appointed by God, involved the proclamation of those things previously concealed, but now made known by the wisdom of God. 

C.     This ministry came to Paul by the eternal purpose of God (v. 11): God has no “Plan B.” The salvation of the Gentiles was always the purpose of God to be accomplished in his time and way.  Perhaps this illuminates God’s promise to Abraham that he would bless the nations of the world through the divine covenant with the ancient patriarch.

D.    Paul executed this ministry in bold confidence despite severe hardship (vv. 12-13): Even though Paul penned this epistle from prison, he remained encouraged in the daring, valiant proclamation of the gospel.