A Commentary by John Stott

Ephesians 3:10. c). Making known God’s wisdom to the cosmic powers (continued).

I do not think I can leave these verses, especially verse 10, without at least mentioning a quite different interpretation which is gaining popularity. It rests on the understanding of ‘the principalities and powers’ as being not cosmic intelligences (i.e. angels and demons) but rather the politico-economic structures of human society. I shall reserve a full exposition and critique of this view until we reach the warfare with the ‘principalities and powers’ in 6:12, but I cannot altogether ignore it here. Its importance may be gauged by G.B.Caird’s statement about verse 10: ‘It is hardly an exaggeration to say that any interpretation of Ephesians stands or falls by this verse.’ He believes that God’s purpose is to use the church not only to *inform* ‘the powers’ but actually to *redeem* them, since ‘even such structures of power and authority as the secular state are capable of being brought into harmony with the love of God’. Markus Barth elaborates this concept of the far flung ‘cosmic’ influence of the church: ‘Political and social, cultural and religious forces, also all other institutions, traditions, majorities and minorities are exposed to her testimony.’ Dictatorships and democracies, organisations promoting racism and civil rights, etc., etc. ‘all these and other powers are given a unique chance by God: they are entitled to see in their midst the beginning of a new heaven and a new earth’. He is referring to the church’s role as indicated in verse 10. Naturally, I feel very diffident about disagreeing with scholars of this calibre but, having weighed the matter carefully, I feel bound to declare myself on it: I do not believe either that Paul was referring to social structures on earth when he wrote of principalities and powers in the heavenlies, or that, whatever their identity, he intended the making known to them of God’s manifold wisdom to be understood as a redemptive (as opposed to an informative) activity. But I will say no more on this topic here.

Looking back over Paul’s exposition of the peculiar privilege which had been given him by God’s grace to be the apostle to the Gentiles, it is instructive to note the different media and phrases of God’s communication. First, he made known the mystery of his plan to Paul himself (and the other apostles and prophets, verse 5) by revelation. Secondly, he commissioned Paul (and others) to preach the gospel to everybody throughout the world. Thirdly, his manifold wisdom and eternal purpose were made known to the principalities and powers through the fact of the church as they watched it grow. This is the circle of divine communication, for the good news was passed from God to Paul, from Paul and others to all mankind, and from the church on earth back to heaven again, to the cosmic powers. At each stage the medium changes. It is by direct revelation that God disclosed his plan to Paul, by the verbal proclamation of the gospel that the message spreads today, and by a visual model (the multi-cultural Christian community) that it finally reaches the unseen angelic spectators. Nothing is more honouring to the gospel, or more indicative of its surpassing importance, than this programme for its universal communication.

Tomorrow: Ephesians 3:1-13. Conclusion.

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.