A Commentary by John Stott
Ephesians 3:1-13. Paul’s unique privilege.
At this stage in his argument Paul introduces himself, and explains his unique personal role in God’s purpose for the Gentiles. It is not for nothing that he has come to be known as ‘the apostle to the Gentiles’.
In the second half of Ephesians 2, as we saw in the last chapter, he painted a vivid contrast between the double alienation the Gentiles endured before Christ (from God and from Israel) and their double reconciliation through Christ. For by his death Christ demolished the Jew-Gentile and the God-man barriers, and is now creating in relation to himself a single, new multi-cultural human society, which is both the family God loves and the temple he lives in. Paul’s Gentile readers must have read with joyful amazement this exposition of the gospel of peace.
Now, abruptly, he turns their attention away from themselves to himself. In doing so he styles himself *I Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles* (verse 1). Humanly speaking, he was not Christ’s prisoner but Nero’s. He had appealed to the Emperor, and so to the Emperor he had been committed for trial (Acts 25:11-12). But Paul never did think or speak in purely human terms. He believed in the sovereignty of God over the affairs of men. Therefore he called himself (literally) a ‘prisoner of Christ Jesus’ (verse 1, also Phm.1,9; and 2 Tim.1:8) or a prisoner of the Lord (4:1), so convinced was he that the whole of his life, including his wearisome imprisonment, was under the lordship of Jesus. He may also have thought of himself as ‘Christ’s prisoner’ much as he thought of himself as ‘Christ’s slave’, in which case his self-description expressed a ‘combination of the external and internal captivity’.
He then adds a second descriptive phrase, to indicate the nature and purpose of his imprisonment. He was Jesus Christ’s prisoner *on behalf of you Gentiles*. This was a matter of fact. What had led to his arrest in Jerusalem, his imprisonment there and in Caesarea, his successive trials and his subsequent appeal to Caesar which had brought him to Rome, was fanatical Jewish opposition to his mission to the Gentiles. Luke, his friend, doctor and travelling companion, was with him at the time and faithfully recorded the details in his Acts record. He explains that what prompted the Jews to stir up the crowd against Paul was his reputation for ‘teaching men everywhere against the people and the law and this place’ (viz. the temple). How can he have acquired such a reputation? Doubtless by teaching exactly what he had just taught in Ephesians 2, namely that by abolishing the divisive elements of the law Jesus was creating a new people and building a new temple. So he was arrested. And when the tribune allowed him to make his public defence to the Jewish people, they listened to him quietly until he got to the point in his story where Jesus had said to him: ‘Depart; for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ At this they shouted ‘Away with such a fellow from the earth.’ (Acts 21:17ff.; 22:21ff.).
So what led to Jewish opposition to Paul was his bold, uncompromising espousal of the Gentile cause. He not only preached his vision of the new and undivided humanity and wrote about it; he was at that moment suffering for the very truths he was expounding.
It seems likely that the apostle was intending to go on to pray for his Gentile readers. He began his sentence: *For this cause I Paul…* But he interrupted himself, and did not begin his prayer until verse 14. Meanwhile he elaborated his self- description in order to emphasise the unique privileges God had given him in the outworking of his purpose for the Gentiles.
Twice in these verses he uses the same expression, indeed an identical combination of Greek words, which are translated *God’s grace that was given to me* (verses 2 and 7). He is referring to two privileges which God in unmerited favour had given to him.
The first was a certain revelation, as a result of which he had come to know something. Verses 2-3: *You have heard of…God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation*.
The second was a certain commission, as a result of which he had a responsibility to make something known to others, Verses 7-8: *Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace which was given me by the working of his power*.
It is clear that these two gifts of divine grace, the revelation and the commission, the ‘mystery’ revealed to him and the ‘ministry’ entrusted to him, were closely related to each other. For once he had received his special revelation from God, he knew that he was under obligation to make known to others what had been made known to him.
Tomorrow: Ephesians 3:1-6. 1). The divine revelation to Paul, or the mystery made known to him.
|The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Ephesians. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.|