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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)
Established November 2008 Published Weekly on Friday AM
This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men (and women) to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1Timothy 2:3-4)
Ephesians (3:1-10) (Lesson 09)
Welcome to HBS
To ensure there’s time to study all the material before us this week I’m going to forego reviewing last week’s lesson. Please take the time to refresh your memories by reading the previous lesson; spiritual dividends will result.
Please open your Bible at Ephesians 3.
The hidden mystery that the Gentles should be saved was made to Paul by revelation (3:1-7); and to him was that grace given, that he should preach it (3:8-12).
1: For this reason (cause) I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of (whom) you Gentiles –
For this reason (cause - KJV) – reason is translated from the Koine Greek word Charin (khar’-in), Preposition, Strong’s Greek #5484, and it means: in favor of, for the pleasure of, and for the sake of. Here Paul means to say on account of this cause (for Christ Jesus).
Paul pauses midway through this letter to speak of this ministry, i.e. the preaching of the mystery of grace to all. I believe he’s referring to everything he is about to say in this chapter and I base this on his statement in verse 13: “Therefore I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are your glory.”
I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of (whom) you Gentiles – our Apostle Paul wrote this letter to the Ephesians while in prison and he gives us the reason: for the sake of the Gentiles. Paul was in chains for two reason: he maintained the gospel of peace (good news) was to be preached to the Gentiles and for preaching the gospel to them. Just talking about this angered many people, but actually doing it landed him in jail. Let’s be clear; Paul was not a criminal. He didn’t commit a crime and he didn’t renege on paying a debt, meaning he was not in “debtor’s prison.”
Paul had explained from the time of Abraham to Jesus Christ’s advent, about 2000 years, God’s blessed Israel primarily (there were some Gentile exceptions in the O.T. and the four gospels, which for all intent and purposes is still O.T.). The Gentiles were on the “outside looking in.” “They were separated from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:11-12).
But now, Paul maintains the Gentiles have equal privileges with the nation of Israel, and all the blessings of the New Covenant. Jesus’ death literally meant “out with the old and in with the New. This means not one Gentile had to submit to the circumcision of the flesh. Bear in mind always, the religious Judaizers routinely disrupted the churches Paul planted by coming in and insisting the Gentile converts be circumcised (Acts 15). Thus the discord in this church was probably caused by Judaizers. Paul dealt with these people in the Corinthian and Galatian churches, so we can reason the religious, Jewish Christians had a hand in disrupting the peace in the Ephesian church.
The Jews persecuted Paul for preaching the gospel of peace to the Gentiles, and for saying they were not bound by the Mosaic Law. We can also reason the Judaizers planned to discredit and silence Paul. This activity was ongoing in other churches, with some success, so why not here? So, this is why he was imprisoned, first at Caesarea, where he appealed to Caesar as a Roman citizen (Acts 22:22:29). Because of his appeal he was sent as a prisoner to Rome (Acts 21:21-28). But just because he’s in prison doesn’t mean his message of salvation by God’s grace is devalued or discredited.
2: if indeed you have heard of the stewardship (dispensation - KJV) of God’s grace which was given to me for you;
This letter was written around 62-64 AD (opinions vary), which means Paul had been diligently preaching the mystery of God’s Grace for about 20 years. Paul only wrote to Believers. These letters were then were read aloud in the churches (Colossians 4:16). Paul has already commented on the Ephesians faithfulness in Christ Jesus (1:1-2). But even though these people were Believers, there’s a good chance some of the folks attending this church were strangers to the truths of God; meaning they were not saved by grace through faith.
if indeed you have heard – this phrase has been wrongly translated. Here and in several other places it means: since indeed, or seeing that, therefore it should be translated and understood as such here and in several other places in the N.T. It should read: “Since indeed you have heard…” Compare 2 Corinthians 5:3; Galatians 3:4; Ephesians 4:21; Colossians 1:23 for the proper use of the particle, which is not designed to express doubt, whether they had heard of it or not; Paul assumes this knowledge was not a mystery.
Reverend Doddridge, professor of philosophy, theology, and biblical languages said:
“Since I well know you have heard.” Paul wasn’t shy when it came to sharing God’s mystery of grace during his stay at Ephesus, the second largest city in the Roman Empire after Rome itself (Acts 18:19-21, 20:27). Paul held nothing back; he shared the entire counsel of God (Acts 20:20). These Ephesians became Believers as a result of his preaching the mystery of God’s Grace.
Our Apostle Paul took God’s salvation message to places others did not go (Gentile territory) and he didn’t discriminate. Every individual, whether Jew or Gentile heard about God’s free gift of grace. Unlike Jonah Paul didn’t pick and choose who would receive God’s message of salvation. Paul knew every Jew and Gentile was dead to God (outside of Christ). Therefore he gave voice to God’s invitation of salvation (Isaiah 52:7; Romans 10:15). While imprisoned for two years in Rome, Paul preached the gospel of peace to everyone that visited him. He also ministered to the soldiers guarding him and to Caesars’ household (Acts 28:1-31; Philippians 4:22). In addition, he wrote four letters which are recognized as “the prison letters” (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon) which are a significant addition to the N.T. Walls do not make a prison cell as long as the mind and heart are free. Paul kept on doing what he had been doing as a free man; he served the Lord.
Fast forward to today and we find most Christians are not even aware of the one gospel that saves (Romans 2:16). These folks are more interested in being “Politically Correct” rather than an ambassador for Christ; too ashamed or embarrassed to mention His name in mixed company or even at home. Others “pick and choose” who will hear the gospel. They deem so and so is not worthy of their attention let alone their compassion because his or her sin offends them. They put themselves above God with this attitude, sitting in judgment of every substance abuser, communist, fornicator, homosexual, etc. they encounter. Therefore I point out Jesus Christ was a friend to sinners even though He was publicly criticized for it (Matthew 9:19-20). Rejection and scorn did not deter Him from serving the Father and sinners.
“To what then shall I compare the men of this generation, and what are they like? “They are like children who sit in the market place and call to one another, and they say, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’ “For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon!’ “The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ (Luke 7:31-34)
Jesus Christ demonstrated He was a friend of sinners by subjecting Himself to living in a darkened world. ”For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Despite mankind’s sin Jesus desired to have a relationship with all (Romans 5:8-9).
Where would we be if God simply judged us as sinners and left it at that? God’s one Church is a home-away-from-home for sinners. All are welcome; their sin is not. Acknowledgement of our sinful ways and repentance is required. So, putting all prejudice aside, Believers are to share the gospel and knowledge of church doctrine to everyone; holding nothing back:
By whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name: (Romans 1:5; Ephesians 1:10, 3:2; Colossians 1:25).
This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men (and women) to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1Timothy 2:3-4).
Getting back to verse 2, we find Paul referring to his ministry, that is, the stewardship (dispensation - KJV) of God’s grace which was given to me for you (Gentiles, Jews, and kings – Acts 9:15-16) - the Koine Greek word stewardship is Oikonomia (oy-kon-om-ee’-ah), Noun Feminine, Strong’s Greek #3622, and it means: the management of a household or of household affairs; specifically, the management, oversight, administration of other’s property. The words stewardship and dispensation are identical in meaning.
Unfortunately, people in the church have been taught to shun anyone or anything associated with the word dispensation. To be clear, some folks automatically assume “cult status” to those who speak of it assuming it is heresy. Even Bible teachers refrain from using the word because of this negative aspect. I’ve chosen a different route. I’m going to share all of God’s Word with people who are interested in knowing what this book says and why it’s said! The word dispensation is used by both the Lord and Paul, so I’m not going to ignore it. And, unless you come to grips with this Bible truth, you’ll never understand what it means to “rightly divide Scripture” (2 Timothy 2:15).
The word dispensation used here simply means “Economy” rendered stewardship. It is the management of God’s affairs on earth. The Lord used the word in the following passage:
And he called him, and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward. Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed. I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses (Luke 16:2-4 - KJV).
The stewardship (dispensation) of God’s grace is the apostolic office and gifts Paul received from the risen Lord for the purpose of preaching the gospel of peace not only to the Ephesians but to all nations. The Dispensation of Law has ended (Colossians 2:14); the Dispensation of Grace is at hand (Acts 9; Romans 16-25). Paul preached the knowledge of God’s divine plan of salvation and the church doctrines associated with it which had been given to him by revelation.
3: that by revelation (the revealing of something previously hidden or secret) there was made known to me the mystery (secret) as I wrote before in brief (see 1:9-10).
The mystery (secret) of God’s grace didn’t originate with Paul and he wasn’t taught it by man (1 Corinthians 4:1; Galatians 1:12). This is plainly spoken here as he answers the assumed questions “How” and What:” by revelation there was made known to me the mystery.
The twelve were called and taught by Jesus Christ for three years during His earthly ministry on Jewish soil. They looked forward to the promised kingdom and their role in it (Matthew 19:23-28). The first few chapters of Acts testify to this truth. The twelve believed the Lord’s return to earth to set up His kingdom was imminent. This is why they “pooled” their possessions and shared as each person had a need (Acts 2:45, 4:32-35). Just as they misunderstood the prophecies related to Jesus’ coming in His first advent, they also misinterpreted the signs and scripture regarding His second coming.
Because Israel rejected God the Father, His Son, and grieved the Holy Spirit, or the Triune Godhead (1 Samuel 8, John 19:15; Acts 7), God decided to do something brand new. The ascended Lord called the most unlikely candidate of all, Saul of Tarsus, and taught him one-on-one for three years. Some people believe Saul/Paul received most of this teaching while he was in the desert of Arabia (Galatians 1:17-18). It’s a fact Saul spent three consecutive years in Arabia, but the Bible does not say he was taught the doctrine of the mystery of grace. Thus I’m hesitant to teach it as fact. What is a fact is the twelve were commissioned and taught within the borders of Israel. Our Apostle Paul was called to be the Apostle to the Gentiles beyond the borders of Israel. Paul was on the road to Damascus, Syria (Gentile ground), when he was converted.
You would think the logical thing for Paul to do would be to rush to Jerusalem and consult with the twelve about meeting with the risen Lord and his salvation, i.e. conversion. Imagine that meeting. The zealous persecutor of the Way confessing he’s now a Believer (Acts 22:4)! I would think the twelve would be expecting a trap. But that’s not what happened and I’ll tell you why. God had other plans for Paul, so He insulated him from the twelve and just like he did Paul’s counterpart, Moses, sent him away into the desert to mature spiritually – most likely the same place Moses received his instructions from the LORD, the Sinai. The implications would not be lost on Saul/Paul, a Jew and a Roman citizen by birth.
The word mystery is the Koine Greek word Musterion (moos-tay’-ree-on), Noun Neuter, Strong’s Greek #3466, meaning: a hidden secret. Unfortunately, most Christians interpret this word to mean, “strange,” “enigma,” “weird,” etc. There’s nothing weird about this secret. It simply means, “kept hidden in the mind of God since the foundation of the world,” until God chose to reveal it to Paul by revelation (Deuteronomy 29:29). Paul served the Lord faithfully for about 30 years. During that time the Lord revealed more secrets to Paul that were not revealed to the twelve. The Apostle Peter confirms this in his second letter:
Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things (What things? The secrets God had kept hidden, even from the twelve and Peter testifies to this with these words), in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction (2 Peter 3:14-16).
This book says the religious Jews (Judaizers) opposed Paul and his gospel going to the Gentiles. It’s the same church but people held different views of church doctrine.
It wasn’t until the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15), when James, Jesus’ half brother, not Peter, the head of the Jerusalem Church declared: “Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood…” (Acts 15:19-20).
Here’s the thing most people overlook the fact that James was not the Apostle to the Gentiles, Paul was, so he was in no position to dictate church doctrine to the Gentiles. This is why Paul all but ignored these instructions (Acts 21:21). Always remember to separate (rightly divide) those things pertaining to the Jew and their religion from what God is doing now with His one Church, by grace. But also keep in mind the Believer should not enjoy our liberty in Christ at the expense of a weaker brother or sister, who may not understand eating a rare steak is okay with God (1 Corinthians 8:13). Seek another’s “highest good” always.
4: By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ -
when you read – when you refer back to the things I’ve written, you may understand the knowledge given to me concerning the mystery. To be specific the calling of Gentiles unto God and the breaking down of the barrier between Jew and Gentile for the purpose of making one spiritual body, the Church.
my insight into the mystery of Christ – the Koine Greek word for insight is Sunesis (soon’-es-is), Noun Feminine, Strong’s Greek #4907, meaning: a running together, a flowing together with; knowledge. Paul’s referring to the Lord’s work of atonement which had been concealed. God’s plan of salvation is now free to all who accept it by faith (alone). Paul was appointed an apostle to proclaim this good news to the whole world. His knowledge of the subject “Could be understood by what he said.” From that they could decide whether he was qualified to preach and to defend the doctrines of the gospel and its vital importance to all those who are outside of Christ Jesus.
5: which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit;
Verses 3:4-6 are the mystery; he began by saying, “it had been hidden in the past.” Not even Moses was aware of it even though he was a friend of God (Exodus 33:11). The Major Prophets and Minor Prophets of the O.T. knew nothing of it. Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Isaiah, David, and others were shown the future and what the end of time would look like, but they were not aware of this mystery. Things changed with the advent of Jesus Christ. He began to reveal the mystery during His earthly ministry:
All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables, and He did not speak to them without a parable. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: “I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things hidden since the foundation of the world” (Matthew 13:34-35).
Why hold this good news back? God the Father was aware of mankind’s spiritual track record. Humanity had to be prepared for the unfolding of this mystery. The LORD chose to do this first through the rituals and symbols in the O.T., that is, the giving of the Law, the priesthood, and the sacrifices. This was to show we all have something inherently wrong with us, which cannot be healed on our own. The only thing that can cure sin is death. God had to prepare the generations to be able to grasp this concept and then to be ready to believe it.
But it has now been revealed, Paul says, "to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit", i.e. the writers of the Scriptures, such as Luke, James, and some others who were not apostles, but who were prophets (somebody considered to be an inspired leader or teacher). In the closing verses of Romans 16 there is a very clear statement on the unveiling of this mystery:
Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, (no exclusions; there is none righteous not even one) leading to obedience of faith; to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen (Romans 16:25-27).
Paul gets specific as to the significant change in God’s management of man’s affairs here on earth in verse 6.
6: to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel,
Paul uses the term the mystery 21 out of 27 times in the N.T. but it doesn’t always mean the same thing. Basically, it is referring to God’s revelation of something that had been kept hidden. Man could not obtain this information on their own, by their own wisdom, but only when God reveals it to His saints by His Spirit (Colossians 1:25-27).
Thus in our text, in Ephesians 2:11-22 Paul wrote about the aspect of the mystery. He then refers to the general sense of the mystery of Christ Jesus (3:4), but then specifies the application of the mystery to the now revealed truth “that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (3:6).
In a nutshell, the mystery of Christ Jesus is “the union of Jews and Gentiles with each other through the union of both groups with the risen Lord.” This promise can be traced back to the calling of Abram by the LORD God in Genesis 12:1-2. The promise made to Abram (Abraham) is extended to the Gentiles:
in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith (Galatians 3:14).
and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him (Romans 8:17).
All the blessings of the New Covenant are to be announced in the preaching of the gospel. They are received, i.e. credited to one’s account, by faith.
7: of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power.
Verse 7 takes us back to Ephesians 3:1: For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles.
Paul said he was made a minister, a representative of God here on earth, acting under the direction of the risen Lord, from who this special call and revelation was made. Not because he deserved it or earned it but according to the (free) gift of God’s grace (2:8).
Again, we’re seeing Paul make multiple repetitious statements and there’s more to come. Paul shows himself to be an excellent teacher in using this practice and I’ll explain why. In our texts here and elsewhere in his letters, Paul’s doing a bit more than trying to get our attention. He feels the need to “kick” some people in the pants so they will realize and remember their hopeless past, and recognize it’s all about God’s grace from start to finish. We Believers, both Jew and Gentile, need to give thanks frequently and rejoice in the substitionary work of Christ Jesus at the Cross.
But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God (Galatians 6:14-16; 2 Corinthians 5:21).
That passage of scripture leads us into verse 8:
8: To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ,
the very least of all saints – this is another repeated comment from our Apostle Paul. It can be compared to: 1 Corinthians 15:9-10; 2 Corinthians 11:30, 12:9-11; 1Timothy 1:12-16. Paul remembers who he was and where he was prior to his conversion; he was a sinner outside of Christ Jesus and without hope. Paul in saying he’s not worthy to be counted among the saints reveals the deep regret and sorrow of his past life (1 Corinthians 15:9). Paul’s sins are forgiven, but he’s mindful of how he once persecuted the church of God and the Lord who is now His Savior (Galatians 1:13-14).
And the unfathomable riches of Christ – Paul made a similar comment in Romans 11:33, saying, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!
Here Paul uses it in a slightly different sense. He applies this truth to the “riches of Christ” which this takes us back to Ephesians 1:7: In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace…
The Koine Greek word unfathomable (unsearchable – KJV) is Anexichniastos (an-ex-ikh-nee’-as-tos), Adjective, Strong’s Greek #421, meaning: that cannot be searched out, it cannot be comprehended. Paul only used this word once before at Romans 11:33. Paul’s basically saying there is a sufficiency in Jesus Christ which cannot be traced or explored by the human mind. It is wholly incomprehensible. In plain English, he’s saying you and I could search the scriptures for the rest of our lives and not exhaust the unsearchable riches of Christ. One aspect of this expression includes the Cross. Why the Creator God would come to this darkened world to save all mankind from their sin, past, present, and future, and undergo the agony of the Cross to accomplish that feat is beyond my understanding; it’s incomprehensible!
9: and to bring to light what is the administration (dispensation) of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things;
I’m going to use the KJV translation of this verse and I think you’ll understand why: And to make all men see what is the fellowship (administration – NASB) of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God,
The NASB omitted the underline phrase from the text. The translators added the word men; we know this because it’s italicized. Paul is saying he wants to make all see what is the fellowship (administration – NASB) of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God. Paul doesn’t discriminate; he wants the whole world to be aware of this good news.
what is the fellowship (administration – NASB) of the mystery – drop the word fellowship; the word was wrongly translated. Instead of the word fellowship, many Bible scholars have used the word “dispensation” or “economy” which agrees with some of the best printed editions of the Greek text. The NASB uses the word administration (dispensation; economy) for example.
So what is Paul saying? Paul’s ministry was to Gentiles and Jews alike (Romans 1:16; Acts 13:13-43). Paul preached the gospel of peace on Jewish soil and Gentile ground. His preaching included “God’s plan which had been kept hidden in God since the foundation of the earth.” The mystery was that Gentiles and Jews could receive salvation equally through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 3:3-6).
The mystery was received by revelation from the risen Lord. Here Paul said, “by God who created all things; affirming God’s divine design of all things, seen and unseen. This book says the Creator God is Jesus Christ:
For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything (Colossians 3:13-18; Hebrews 1:2-3).
10: so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.
Straight up, most theologians have no idea what this verse means to say. The text is saying Paul was called to preach to the Gentiles (the nations) the unfathomable riches of Christ. And to bring to light (enlighten all) what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God… so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to rulers and authorities (principalities) in the heavenly places.
For those who do not participate in auto mechanics or did not sign up for auto-shop while in school, a manifold on your car has many ports. However many cylinders your car has equals the number of ports in the manifold. So manifold means many.
Paul explains God’s eternal purpose (3:9-11) and will in the next lesson which give us two practical applications. What matters to God today is the Church, that is, God’s eternal purpose centers on Christ Jesus, the Alpha and the Omega, and His one Church. Jesus was there at the beginning of all things (Genesis 1:1), and will be present at the end of all things (Revelation 22:12-13). This is just one aspect of the manifold wisdom of God.
This verse is saying God’s purpose in all this was to use His Church to display His wisdom, the riches of Christ, and His eternal purpose to authorities, rulers, and principalities (angels) in the heavenly places (Acts 9:15). Our source of wisdom from God comes to us from both the Old Testament and the New Testament. It’s all about the promised Redeemer who came as a servant of man and conquered sin and death at the Cross:
And He is the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning and firstborn from among the dead, so that in all things He may have preeminence (Colossians 1:18).
(To be continued)
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