THE BEGINNING OF A PRAYER (3: 1)
The first verse of chapter three begins a prayer, but these opening words suggest another thought, and Paul breaks off to pursue the new idea, resuming the prayer at verse 14. "For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus in behalf of you Gentiles"
"For this cause", that is, because of God's wonderful purpose which unites Jew and Gentile in the house of God, as explained in chapter 2. And Paul was a prisoner in two senses. He had been apprehended of the Lord Jesus and sent as his ambassador to them; and the fulfilment of that commission had led to his arrest and the imprisonment at Rome which he was then enduring. It was on behalf of the Gentiles in that his preaching to them had led to his arrest, but the very restriction of his movements was turning out for the further enrichment of all the saints, this epistle being not the least of the benefits.
THE REVELATION OF THE MYSTERY (3: 2-13)
These verses are a parenthesis. As the epistle is carefully studied one gets the impression that the author's mind was so full of rich thought that he is constantly interrupting his main theme to add supplementary matters. Thus in this place, the reference in verse 1 to his work for the Gentiles turns him aside to explain the commission entrusted to him in his development of God's plan in the offer of salvation to them. He says: "the prisoner on behalf of you Gentiles € if so be that ye have heard of the dispensation of that grace of God which was given me to you-ward; how that by revelation was made known unto me the mystery, as I wrote afore in few words, whereby, when ye read, ye can perceive my understanding in the mystery of Christ" (verses 2-4).
"If so be that ye have heard" is not an expression of doubt; it is a supposition taken for granted, as though he said, If so be, as I may assume. For the word "dispensation" the R.V. margin gives us "stewardship". Paul indeed had a stewardship, as other places show. Thus he says, "Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful" (1 Cor. 4: 1, 2). And he proceeds to say that he is not answerable to the Corinthians, but to the Lord; and although he knew nothing against himself (the "by" of the A.V. is an archaism, and leaves his remark very hazy) yet he was not therefore justified. Again, "If I do this thing (that is, preach the gospel) willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation (stewardship) of the gospel is committed unto me" (9: 17). But the word "dispensation", as we saw in connection with 1: 10, has to do with an arrangement, an administration, as well as stewardship. Here, the idea is that in God's administration, His purpose now took in the Gentiles. To Paul this acceptance of the nations was the outstanding illustration of the grace of God. He calls it "that grace of God to you-ward". In similiar language he wrote to Rome: "I have written the more boldly unto you . . . because of the grace that is given to me of God, that I should be the minister of Jesus Christ unto the Gentiles" (Rom. 15: 15). In the Galatian letter he describes his meeting with the three "pillars", Peter, John and James, and how they "perceived the grace given unto me" (Gal. 2:9). How had Paul arrived at this knowledge that by him the Gentiles should have preached to them the words of life? In view of the modern unbelief which speaks of "Paulinism" as though it were the outcome of Paul's own brain, and which suggests that there is conflict between the teaching of Paul and the teaching of Christ, we do well to mark his words. "By revelation was made known unto me the mystery." It was not his own idea. It was far removed from all known training when he wrote € I conferred not with flesh and blood: neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus" (Gal. 1: 16, 17). We do not know what communications were made to him while in Arabia as his mind was opened up to the meaning of the facts connected with Jesus Christ, and the extension of God's work, and the part he had to play in it. We are told that at one of his visits to Jerusalem he was informed that his work was not there. The Lord said unto him "Depart: for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles" (Acts 22: 21). He also tells us of the words Jesus spoke to him when he stood blinded in the glorious presence of the despised Nazarene. "I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee: delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light" (Acts 26: 16, 17). He also refers to "abundant revelations" given to him some fourteen years before he wrote to Corinth. We are assured that Paul's mission was divinely appointed; and his letters are "the commandments of the Lord", being classed by Peter with the "other Scriptures". We must guard against the modernist denial that the epistles are a part of the inspired word of God.
The revelation concerned the mystery, further called the mystery of Christ. He had referred to this already in brief, in chapter 1, and that sufficiently showed his understanding of it. The mystery, or secret, was that Christ was the Saviour of the Gentiles as well as of the Jews, "Christ in you, the hope of glory"; and that the time had arrived for its announcement. There had been hints of this before, but in other ages the secret "was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit" (verse 5). The hints are clearer to us in the light of what has happened than they could possibly be to the recipients of them. It is easy for us to discern "the time" and the "manner of time" of the sufferings of Christ, and the glory to follow, to which the prophets bore witness. The sufferings, so long since accomplished, enable us rightly to divide the word of truth in its testimony to the two-fold work of the Messiah. But "the time" of the second advent appears not to be precisely determinable, although the vision undoubtedly speaks in the many signs before our eyes. What of the prophets through whom the message came? They searched diligently, says Peter, to find out how this double role would be fulfilled by the Servant of God. It must have been more perplexing still to find the place in the scheme when the Gentiles would be received of God. That they had a place was revealed in the prophets' messages. "My gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ", Paul wrote, "was kept secret since the world began", but "now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets ... is made known to all nations for the obedience of faith" (Rom. 16: 25, 26). He illustrates in the same letter this witness of the prophets in citations from Hosea, Isaiah and Moses, in chapters 9 and 10. When Paul was opposed by the Jews in Pisidian Antioch, he justified his turning to the Gentiles by quoting Isaiah: "We turn to the Gentiles. For so the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth". It is interesting to follow up this quotation in Isaiah 49. The prophet tells of one called from birth by God, and protected by Him, who apparently labours in vain. But God assures His servant that the gathering of Israel was a small part of his work; by him the Gentile world would also be enlightened. Then God tells this man, whom the nation abhorred, that kings should yet serve him, for he would be cut off in death for the ratification of a covenant in virtue of which the faithful would be raised from the dead to inherit the desolate heritages. So far the fulfilment is wonderfully complete. We know that Christ was despised and rejected, and that his blood was shed to confirm the new covenant. We know that the land became desolate. We can see how at his second advent Israel will be restored, the dead raised, and salvation proclaimed to the ends of the earth. But while Isaiah testifies that the Gentiles come within the scope of God's plan, there is no indication that, during Israel's exile from the land after the rejection of the "heir" and to the end of the "times of the Gentiles", the work of God for the most part would proceed among the Gentiles, taking out of them a people for His name. Therefore Paul can say "it was not made known unto the sons of men, as it hath now been revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit". It was "now" revealed that "a fulness of the Gentiles" should "come in" during the time when Israel was cut off.
In verse 6, Paul explicitly defines the secret: "That the Gentiles are fellow-heirs, and fellow-members of the body, and fellow-partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel". By the repetition of a prefix in compound words (indicated by the repetition of the word "fellow" in the R.V.) Paul emphasizes the fact that Gentiles and Jews look for the same inheritance, belong to the same body, and rejoice in the same promise. The higher elements of God's purpose in connection with Israel, which only the elect of the nation perceived, are in view: "forgiveness of sins, and an inheritance among them that are sanctified". This inheritance is eternal, which only those who attain life will receive. And the promise cannot be fulfilled apart from Christ, who is the seed of Abraham and the Son of God. "In Christ" men are fellow-heirs of the promise and children of God. Paul's teaching and his writings were of God. The man himself was a servant prepared and appointed for the unfolding of the secret. He says that God effectually worked with him to fulfil the task (verse 7). In the companion letter he writes, "I am made a minister according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God; even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: to whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus: whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily" (Col. 1: 25-29). We should estimate the man from the divine point of view, and appreciate how greatly God used him for His work. "By the grace of God I am what I am; and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all; yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me" (1 Cor. 15 : 10). "Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God" (2 Cor. 3:5).
In this way Paul magnified his office; but he did not claim glory for himself. The very greatness of his work seemed the rather to fill him with a sense of personal unworthiness. "Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, was this grace given, to preach unto the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and to make all men see what is the dispensation of the mystery which from all ages hath been hid in God who created all things; to the intent that now unto the principalities and the powers in the heavenly places might be made known through the ecclesia the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord" (verses 8-11).
The successive clauses of this account of his message are so many expansions of the subject matter of it. He preached "the unsearchable riches of Christ"; "unsearchable" or "past finding out" as the word is translated in Rom. 11: 33, denotes "not to be tracked by footprints". These untrackable riches pertain to the Christ. In the Messiah there is unfathomable wealth, for he is not only King of Israel but the Saviour of all, with a position in God's universe second only to God. In explaining these riches, Paul had to unfold "the dispensation of the mystery" (The R.V. with all editors of the text substitute "dispensation" for "fellowship"). Paul had to explain the divine arrangement through which the mystery was now declared. It was not unforseen, but it had been hid in God who was the Creator, and who had arranged all from creation. The preaching resulted in the gathering together of men and women who constituted the ecclesia of God. Themselves hearers of the message, they had to say to others, Come (Rev. 22:17). Their testimony extended to those in high places, so that the manifold wisdom of God was made known to the rulers of the world.
"The Ecclesia", says Brother. Thomas, "was associated with the apostles in the ministry of reconciliation. By 'the ecclesia', I mean, not that multiform thing called 'the ecclesia' by the world in these times; but that one undivided body of disciples, collected by the personal labours of the apostles and evangelists; and all who through subsequent generations should believe and practise the same truth. To this 'one body' energized by the 'one spirit', and 'perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment', and styled 'the bride' € is committed the work of making known 'the manifold wisdom of God' as contained in the word; and of inviting the world to be reconciled to God. No member of this body is exempt from the obligation of co-operating in this work. It is the duty and privilege of every one in his own sphere to endeavour to turn men to righteousness; for there is no distinction of 'clergy' and 'laity' in the family of God" (Elpis Israel, page 159).
This "manifold wisdom" is the very varied but always wise way of God in precisely adapting His method to the distribution and condition of men and nations. In the past God spake "by divers portions and in divers manners". Then He spake by a Son, who was the Word made flesh, the greatest and fullest revelation of all. The exposition of the manifold wisdom is the divine philosophy of history. We might divide history broadly into the patriarchal, Mosaic and Christian ages. In the first, for most of the time, man was of one speech; worship pertained to the family, and the knowledge of God was preserved by the individual efforts of faithful men. The principal promise was that made in Eden € concerning the Seed of the Woman supplemented by whatever explanation and expansion of this broad outline God may have made known by the angels to men of faith. When this age was coming to a close, and mankind was split up into families and tongues and nations, there was an extension of revelation with the changed conditions. This further revelation coincided with the preliminary preparation for a change in God's way of dealing with men. The promise of the land of Palestine to Abraham showed the centre of operations for the blessing of all nations. The man to whom the promise was made was the chosen founder of the nation through which God's purpose was going to be developed. With the forming of the nation of Israel came the Mosaic age, characterized by an elaborate ritual, designed for a nation which had entered into covenant relationship (nation ally) with God. The other nations were allowed to go their own ways. The further promises of God during this period were given at the opportune time. When Israel desired a king, the promise was made to David of a Seed who should occupy his throne for ever. Declension in the nation led to the raising up of prophets, with messages of warning of disasters and punishment, and also of promise of ultimate restoration and blessing under the Branch of David. We mark the same gradual preparation for a change from the Mosaic to the Christian age. From four to five centuries elapsed from the call of Abraham to the establish ment of his descendants in the land as the Kingdom of God. A little longer period elapsed from the overthrow of the throne of Israel, when the Times of the Gentiles began, to the turning from Israel to the Gentiles by the apostles of the Lord. This period was necessary; Israel had to be partially restored and to continue in the land for the manifestation of the seed. When he had come and the nation had done unto him whatsoever they listed, then it only required the final offer of mercy and life through the apostles, and the rejection of these last messengers to Israel, and the nation was cast off until the fulness of the Gentiles is gathered in. The present age is individual in its bearings, like the patriarchal in some respects. It will witness the taking out of the Gentiles of a people for God's name, and when this is accomplished the rulers of the age to come will all have been provided. The millennial age will surpass all preceding ones in the conditions under which mankind will live and in the results of the divine work during this period. It has been well described as "the final instrumentality in the great scheme of human redemption". There is thus a "purpose of the ages which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord'' (verse 11). All ages had relation to him. History in the past moved on to his first advent, as at the present time events are shaping for his second advent. In all times men of faith have rejoiced in the hope connected with him. Abraham rejoiced to see his day and was glad. With his first advent much that was obscure became plain. The way of life, exhibited before in type and shadow, was exemplified in him who brought life and immortality to life. The way to friendship and fellowship with God is more readily understood by the apostolic explanation of what Christ has done than by any prophecy concerning him. So Paul adds "in whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him" (verse 12). The final word in this section is a request that his readers do not faint at the tribulations which he was undergoing, which were their glory. Paul's work was not frustrated by his imprisonment. They must not think the cause of God would fail. He was not himself discouraged; on the contrary he "rejoiced in his sufferings" for them. The sufferings were "their glory" enabling them to guage the value of those spiritual blessings for which so much suffering could be endured ; and encouraging them to endure like afflictions for the gospel's sake that they might obtain a crown of glory which would not fade away.
A Prayer Concluded (3: 14-21)
The prayer which was begun in verse 1, and interrupted so soon after its commencement, is resumed in verse 14, the opening words being repeated. It was interrupted to explain that the revelation of the mystery had been made known to the writer, and that it was his work to carry the message to the Gentiles. That being made clear, the reason for his prayer for them is apparent. "For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named" (verses 14-15). There is much emphasis in this epistle upon the Fatherhood of God. God is first the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; the Father of Glory. Those who are made nigh in Christ have access unto the Father, and are of the household of faith. In keeping with this, the prayer is addressed to "the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ", or (as the R.V.) simply "the Father", the One who is the Father of the household of adopted children. He is the Father of a family described as "the whole family in heaven and on earth". The heavenly portion of the family consists of the angels. They are sons of God; so described by God when He said to Job. "Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? . . . When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?" (38: 4, 7). And God is "bringing many sons unto glory" of Adam's race. They are now sons of God, but it is not yet made manifest what they shall be. They will be made like their Lord at his appearing. They will also be equal unto the angels, being the children of the resurrection. Paul's phrase appears to have some parallel in a saying of the Rabbis, who spoke of "the upper and the lower family; of the angels and of Israel". But Paul is not here contemplating natural Israel. What does Paul mean when he says that from the Father the whole family is named? The answer is, that there is a play upon words here. The word translated family is derived from the word for Father. In English father and family are not cognate words as in the Greek. The Companion Bible has a useful note in this connection: "The word 'family' is an unfortunate rendering of the Greek patria. Our English word takes its derivation from the lowest in the household, famulus, the servant, or slave. The Latin familia was sometimes used for the household of servants and sometimes of all the members of a family under the power of a paterfamilias. But the idea of patria is Hebrew, a group or class of families all claiming descent from one pater (father), e.g., the twelve tribes of Israel." We cannot agree with the writer of this note in the application which is made of the facts stated. Neither does the use of the word fatherhood instead of family, as suggested by the R.V. margin, commend itself. Paul says that God is Father (pater) and the family (patria) is named from Him as Father, the derived word illustrating the blessedness of their position. He is Father, and they are named, from the relationship involved in the word, the family. The lack of correspondence in the derivation of the words for family in different languages makes a precise reproduction of the beautiful idea in the apostle's words very difficult. It should perhaps be remarked that there is no idea in the apostle's words of the universal Fatherhood of God, over all mankind. The family "on earth" consists of the saints, who alone have the right, in the strict sense of the words, to address Him as Father.
We look now at the petitions. They are built one upon another, or they may be said to grow one out of the other, the recurrence of the word "that" linking the phrases together. "I bow my knees (praying) that he would grant you that . . . that . . . that." The ability of God, and the basis of His operations in granting the request, are both involved in the qualifying words "that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory". In Rom. 9: 23, we read of God's making known "the riches of his glory" on vessels of mercy which He had afore prepared unto glory. Again, in Col. 1: 27, Paul says the mystery has been manifested to God's saints, "to whom God was pleased to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory". The "riches of his glory" describes the wealth of goodness that God has designed for, and exhibited to His people in the exercise of mercy toward them, inviting them to share the glory to be revealed. It is according to this purpose of love that Paul prays that God would give effect to his requests.
He first desires that "ye may be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inward man" (verse 16). In the first chapter he had prayed that they might know the exceeding greatness of His power to usward who believe. Now he would have them strengthened with power in the inward man. The object of this strengthening was that they might endure afflictions, exercise patience, and in the daily round develop well-pleasing characters. His thought is seen in the parallel in Colossians: "Strengthened with all power, according to the might of his glory, unto all patience and longsuffering with joy". The phrase "through his Spirit" recalls the use of the same words in Romans 8, where Paul speaks of the Spirit of God dwelling in us, which he further defines as having the Spirit of Christ, and as Christ being in us. In this association, to have God's spirit is to have Christ in us. And it is so in Ephesians, for Paul's next request is "that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith". The converse of "Christ in us" is more frequently before us in the Scriptures, and is well illustrated in this epistle. The Ephesians are addressed as "the faithful in Christ Jesus". They have been told that "in him" they obtained an inheritance. Once "without Christ", they have been reminded that now "in Christ Jesus" they who were once far off have been brought nigh. A person comes to be in Christ by baptism "into Christ" by which also Christ is "put on" (Gal. 3: 27). This is the beginning. The aim is "to be conformed to the image of God's Son". Faith, purifying the life of the believer, gradually brings this change about; Christ is formed in him. Paul calls it, in the passage just quoted, "Christ in you, the hope of glory". Jesus also spoke of it, pointing out the conditions which must obtain with his followers, but which are absent in the world. "Judas saith unto him, not Iscariot, Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world? Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father's who sent me" (John 14: 22-24). This indwelling of Christ in the heart is "to the end that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be strong to apprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, that ye may be filled unto all the fulness of God" (verses 17-19).
"Rooted and grounded in love" describes "the soil and basis" of the saints, even the love of God. "The saints are viewed both as 'trees of the Lord, full of sap', deep in the rich soil of the love of God (Psa. 1:3; 92: 12, 13; Jer. 17: 8), and as constituent stones of the great Temple which rests ultimately on the same love." The result of such rootage is strength to comprehend four dimensions of something which Paul leaves unexpressed. What is it? Probably the purpose of God as unfolded in Paul's exposition of the mystery. And this is restated as the love of Christ which passeth knowledge. To know that which passes knowledge is another paradox € a favourite figure with Paul. It may be known partially and increasingly; and the growth in this knowledge is a mark of progress of the saint. The very climax of the prayer is that the saints may be filled with the fulness of God. It is a bold and amazing thing that is here desired. The words, few and simple, easily slipped over in the reading of the chapter, express the highest possible aim of mortal man. All that God is, they must try to be. The Son of God was manifested to make it possible. "In him dwells all the fulness of the godhead bodily, and in him ye are made full." When a man receives of the grace and truth that came by Jesus, and of which he was "full", he is justified. But he must go on to perfection. The Son learned obedience by the things which he suffered, and he is the author of eternal salvation to them that obey him. The example of the Son must be followed by all the children of God. The Son revealed the Father, and to follow the Son is to follow the Father. "Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children" (Eph. 5:1); "Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ" (1 Cor. 11: 1) ; so Paul exhorted, setting before us God and His Son as models for imitation. Jesus enjoined, "Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect". This, in Paul's words, is to be "filled with the fulness of God". The prayer passes to praise in verses 20 and 21. "Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the ecclesia by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end."
Paul is full of the thought of God's power. It is unlimited and unfathomable. It exceeds all that we can ask "exceeding abundantly". This power worketh in us. "God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work" (2 Cor. 9: 8). For himself Paul testified, "I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily" (Col. 1: 29). And Jude affirms that "God is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy" (verse 24). The narratives in the Bible of the lives of men of God in past times illustrate how God's power was exercised on their behalf in the unseen Ways of Providence. His hand is not shortened. The record was written for our instruction, that through the comfort of these Scriptures we might have hope. In the attitude expressed in the words "commit the keeping of their souls in well doing" we provide the required basis for the exercise of divine power on our behalf. The subject is dealt with at length in an instructive and very helpful way in the book, Ways of Providence, in which the author says: "We pray not a vain prayer when we pray 'deliver us from evil'." Each one taught of God by the reading of the Scriptures, and who "willeth to do his will", knows, as Christ said he would, that the teaching is of God (John 7:17); and he also joins with Paul in the adoration, "to him be the glory.. . for ever and ever".