Prison And Privileges
To understand the connection of thought in this passage it has to be noted that Ephesians 3:2-13 are one long parenthesis. The for this cause of Ephesians 3:14 takes up again and resumes the for this cause of Ephesians 3:1 . Someone has spoken of Paul's habit of "going off at a word." A single word or idea can send his thoughts off at a tangent. When he speaks of himself as "the prisoner of Christ," it makes him think of the universal love of God and of his part in bringing that love to the Gentiles. In Ephesians 3:2-13 his thoughts go off on that track; and in Ephesians 3:14 he comes back to what he meant to say when he began.
It is for this cause that I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for
the sake of you Gentiles--you must have heard of the share that
God gave me in dispensing his grace to you, because God's secret
was made known to me by direct revelation, as I have just been
writing to you, and you can read again what I have just written,
if you wish to know what I understand of the meaning of that
secret which Christ brought, a secret which was not revealed to
the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed
to his consecrated apostles and prophets by the work of the
Spirit. The secret is that the Gentiles are fellow-heirs,
fellow-members of the same body, fellow-sharers in the promise
in Jesus Christ, through the good news of which I was made a
servant through the free gift of the grace of God, which was
given to me according to the working of his power. It is to me,
who am less than the least of all God's consecrated people, that
this privilege has been given the privilege of preaching to the
Gentiles the wealth of Christ, the full story of which no man can
ever tell, the privileges of enlightening all men as to what is
the meaning of that secret, which was hidden from all eternity,
in the God who created all things. It was kept secret up till
now in order that now the many-coloured wisdom of God should be
made known through the Church to the rulers and powers in the
heavenly places: and all this happened and will happen in
accordance with the eternal design which he purposed in Jesus
Christ, through whom we have a free and confident right of
approach to him through faith in him. I therefore pray that you
will not lose heart because of my afflictions on your behalf. For
these afflictions are your glory.
The Great Discovery ( Ephesians 3:1-7 )
3:1-7 It is for this cause that I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for the sake of you Gentiles you must have heard of the share that God gave me in dispensing his grace to you, because God's secret was made known to me by direct revelation. as I have just been writing to you, and you can read again what I have just written, if you wish to know what I understand of the meaning of that secret which Christ brought, a secret which was not revealed to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his consecrated apostles and prophets by the work of the Spirit. The secret is that the Gentiles are fellow-heirs, fellow-members of the same body, fellow-sharers in the promise in Jesus Christ, through the good news of which I was made a servant through the free gift of the grace of God, which was given to me according to the working of his power.
When Paul wrote this letter he was in prison in Rome awaiting trial before Nero, waiting for the Jewish prosecutors to come with their bleak faces and their envenomed hatred and their malicious charges. In prison Paul had certain privileges, for he was allowed to stay in a house which he himself had rented and his friends were allowed access to him; but night and day he was still a prisoner chained to the wrist of the Roman soldier who was his guard and whose duty it was to see that Paul would never escape.
In these circumstances Paul calls himself "the prisoner of Christ." Here is another vivid instance of the fact that the Christian has always a double life and a double address. Any ordinary person would have said that Paul was the prisoner of the Roman government; and so he was. But Paul never thought of himself as the prisoner of Rome; he always thought of himself as the prisoner of Christ.
One's point of view makes all the difference in the world. There is a famous story of the days when Sir Christopher Wren was building St. Paul's Cathedral. On one occasion he was making a tour of the work in progress. He came upon a man at work and asked him: "What are you doing?" The man said: "I am cutting this stone to a certain size and shape." He came to a second man and asked him what he was doing. The man said: "I am earning so much money at my work." He came to a third man at work and asked him what he was doing. The man paused for a moment, straightened himself and answered: "I am helping Sir Christopher Wren build St. Paul's Cathedral."
If a man is in prison for some great cause he may either grumblingly regard himself as an ill-used creature, or he may radiantly regard himself as the standard-bearer of some great cause. The one regards his prison as a penance; the other regards it as a privilege. When we are undergoing hardship, unpopularity, material loss for the sake of Christian principles we may either regard ourselves as the victims of men or as the champions of Christ. Paul is our example; he regarded himself, not as the prisoner of Nero, but as the prisoner of Christ.
In this section Paul returns to the thought which is at the very heart of this letter. Into his life had come the revelation of the great secret of God. That secret was that the love and mercy and grace of God were meant not for the Jews alone but for all mankind. When Paul had met Christ on the Damascus road there had come to him a sudden flash of revelation. It was to the Gentiles that God had sent him "to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and a place among who are sanctified by faith in me" ( Acts 26:18 ).
This was a completely new discovery. The basic sin of the ancient world was contempt. The Jews despised the Gentiles as worthless in the sight of God. At worst they existed only to be annihilated, "The nation and kingdom that will not serve you shall perish; those nations shall be utterly laid waste" ( Isaiah 60:12 ). At best they existed to be the slaves of Israel; "The wealth of Egypt and the merchandise of Ethiopia and the Sabeans, men of stature, shall come over to you and be yours; they shall come after thee; in chains they shall come over and they shall fall down unto thee" ( Isaiah 45:14 ).
To minds which could think like that it was incredible that the grace and the glory of God were for the Gentiles. The Greek despised the barbarians--and to the Greek all other nations were barbarians. As Celsus said when he was attacking the Christians, "the barbarians may have some gift for discovering truth, but it takes a Greek to understand."
This racial contempt did not end with the ancient world. In the sixteenth century Complaynt o Scotland, it is written: "Euere nation reputis vthers nations to be barbarianes, quhen there twa natours and complexions ar contrar till vtheris." In the Mercantile Marine Magazine of 1858 there is a recommendation to the effect that the term barbarian should not be applied to British subjects in Chinese official documents. (These two illustrations are taken from The Stranger at the Gate, by T. J. Haarhoff.)
But in the ancient world the barriers were complete. No one had ever dreamed that God's privileges were for all people. It was Paul who made that discovery. That is why he is so tremendously important--for, had there been no Paul it is conceivable that there would have been no world-wide Christianity and that we would not be Christians today.
The Self-consciousness Of Paul ( Ephesians 3:1-7 Continued)
When Paul thought of this secret which had been revealed to him, he thought of himself in certain ways.
(i) He regarded himself as the recipient of a new revelation. Paul never thought of himself as having discovered the universal love of God; he thought of God having revealed it to him. There is a sense in which truth and beauty are always given by God.
It is told that once Sir. Arthur Sullivan was at a performance of H.M.S. Pinafore. When that lovely duet "Ah! Leave me not to pine alone" had been sung, Sullivan turned to the friend sitting beside him and said, "Did I really write that?"
One of the great examples of poetical music of words is Coleridge's Kubla Khan. Coleridge fell asleep reading a book in which were the words: "Here Kubla Khan commanded a place to be built and a stately garden thereunto." He dreamed the poem and when he awoke he had nothing to do but write it down.
When a scientist makes a great discovery, over and over again what happens is that he thinks and thinks, and experiments and experiments; and comes to a dead end. Then quite suddenly the solution to his problem flashes upon him. It is given to him--by God.
Paul would never have claimed to be the first man to discover the universality of the love of God; he would have said that God told him the secret which had not been previously revealed to any man.
(ii) He regarded himself as the transmitter of grace. When Paul meets the leaders of the Church to talk over with them his mission to the Gentiles, he talks about the gospel of the uncircumcision being committed to him and of "the grace that was given to me" ( Galatians 2:7 ; Galatians 2:9 ): When he writes to the Romans, he speaks of "the grace given me by God" ( Romans 15:15 ). Paul saw his task as that of being a channel of God's grace to men. It is one of the great facts of the Christian life that we have been given the precious things of Christianity in order to share them with others. It is one of the great warnings of the Christian life that if we keep them to ourselves we lose them.
(iii) He regarded himself as having the dignity of service. Paul says that he was made a servant by the free gift of the grace of God. He did not think of his service as a wearisome duty but as a radiant privilege. It is often astonishingly difficult to persuade people to serve the Church. To teach for God, to sing for God, to administer affairs for God, to speak for God, to visit those in poverty and distress for God, to give of our time and our talent and our substance for God, should not be counted a duty to be coerced out of us; it is a privilege which we should be glad to accept.
(iv) Paul regarded himself as a sufferer for Christ. He did not expect the way of service to be easy; he did not expect the way of loyalty to be trouble-free. Unamuno, the great Spanish mystic, used to say, "May God deny you peace, and give you glory." F. R. Maltby used to say that Jesus promised his disciples three things--that "they would be absurdly happy, completely fearless, and in constant trouble." When the knights of chivalry came to the court of King Arthur and to the society of the Round Table, they came asking for dangers to face and dragons to conquer. To suffer for Christ is not a penalty; it is our glory, for it is to share in the sufferings of Christ himself and an opportunity to demonstrate the reality of our loyalty to him.
The Privilege Which Makes A Man Humble ( Ephesians 3:8-13 )
3:8-13 It is to me, who am less than the least of all God's consecrated people. that this privilege has been given the privilege of preaching to the Gentiles the wealth of Christ, the full story of which no man can ever tell; the privilege of enlightening all men as to what is the meaning of that secret, which was hidden from all eternity, in the God who created all things. it was kept secret up till now in order that now the many-coloured wisdom of God should be made known through the Church to the rulers and powers in the heavenly places; and all this happened and will happen in accordance with the eternal design which he purposed in Jesus Christ, through whom we have a free and confident approach to him through faith in him. I therefore pray that you will not lose heart because of my afflictions on your behalf. for these afflictions are your glory.
Paul saw himself as a man who had been given a double privilege. He had been given the privilege of discovering the secret that it was God's will that all men should be gathered into his love. And he had been given the privilege of making this secret known to the Church and of being the instrument by which God's grace went out to the Gentiles. But that consciousness of privilege did not make Paul proud; it made him intensely humble. He was amazed that this great privilege had been given to him who, as he saw it, was less than the least of God's people.
If ever we are privileged to preach or to teach the message of the love of God or to do anything for Jesus Christ, we must always remember that our greatness lies not in ourselves but in our task and in our message. Toscanini was one of the greatest orchestral conductors in the world. Once when he was talking to an orchestra when he was preparing to play one of Beethoven's symphonies with them he said: "Gentlemen, I am nothing; you are nothing; Beethoven is everything." He knew well that his duty was not to draw attention to himself or to his orchestra but to obliterate himself and his orchestra and let Beethoven flow through.
Leslie Weatherhead tells of a talk he had with a public schoolboy who had decided to enter the ministry of the Church. He asked him when he had come to his decision, and the lad said he had been moved to make it after a certain service in the school chapel. Weatherhead very naturally asked who the preacher had been, and the lad answered that he had no idea; he only knew that Jesus Christ had spoken to him that morning. That was true preaching.
The tragic fact is that there are so many who are more concerned with their own prestige than with the prestige of Jesus Christ; and who are more concerned that they should be noticed than that Christ should be seen.
The Plan And The Wisdom Of God ( Ephesians 3:8-13 Continued)
There are still other things in this passage which we must note.
(i) Paul reminds us that the ingathering of all men was part of the eternal purpose of God. That is something which we would do well to remember. Sometimes the history of Christianity can be presented in such a way that it sounds as if the gospel went out to the Gentiles only because the Jews would not receive it. Paul here reminds us that the salvation of the Gentiles is not an afterthought of God; the bringing of all men into his love was part of God's eternal design.
(ii) Paul uses a great word to describe the grace of God. He calls it polupoikilos ( Greek #4182 ), which means many-coloured. The idea in this word is that the grace of God will match with any situation which life may bring to us. There is nothing of light or of dark, of sunshine or of shadow, for which it is not triumphantly adequate.
(iii) Again Paul returns to one of his favourite thoughts. In Jesus we have a free approach to God. It sometimes happens that a friend of ours knows some very distinguished person. We ourselves would never have any right to enter into that person's presence; but in our friend's company we have the right of entry. That is what Jesus does for us with God. In his presence there is an open door to God's presence.
(iv) Paul finishes with a prayer that his friends may not be discouraged by his imprisonment. Perhaps they might think that the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles will be greatly hindered because the champion of the Gentiles is in prison. Paul reminds them that the afflictions through which he is going are for their good.
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