Ephesians 3:1-7

Sunday Morning Bible Study

March 12, 2006


Paul has been talking about how God removed the barriers between the Jews and Gentiles.  When Jesus died on the cross, He didn’t die just for the sins of the Jews, but He died for the sins of the whole world.  And now God is putting us all together, Jews and Gentiles, building us up as a Temple of God.

:1-7 Mystery Revealed

:1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles;

Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesians from a prison in Rome.

Paul doesn’t say he was a prisoner of the Gentiles. He says he was a prisoner for the Gentiles.

It was because of his ministry to the Gentiles that he was in prison in Rome.

Paul’s current imprisonment in Rome was due to an event that had happened several years previous in Jerusalem.  Paul had been accused by the Jewish leaders of taking a Gentile into the temple in Jerusalem.  As a result, Paul had been arrested by the Romans, and upon appeal was transferred to Rome where he was awaiting a trial before Caesar.

Paul doesn’t say he was a prisoner of Rome, he was a prisoner of Jesus Christ.

As Paul had been on his way to Jerusalem where he would be arrested, he made a stop to meet with the elders of the church at Ephesus one last time.

(Acts 20:22-24 NKJV) "And see, now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there, {23} "except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me. {24} "But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.

The word “bound” (vs. 22, deo) is the basis for the word “prisoner” (Eph. 3:1, desmios).  Paul felt “bound” to go to Jerusalem.

In a sense, we’re all a prisoner of something. We’re all bound to something.

Some people are bound to dangerous things like addictions to drugs or alcohol.
Others are bound to pleasure – they live for the next time they’ll experience pleasure. It would seem that the three young men sentenced to prison on Friday for their sex-party with a girl were prisoners of pleasure. Now they’re prisoners of the state of California.
Some people joke about being a “prisoner of love”.
Some people are imprisoned to others. They are always wondering how they can please their father.  For some it’s a friend or spouse. Their life’s aim is to get that other person to be happy with them.
Bob Dillon had a song years ago where he sang, “You gotta serve somebody …” The way Paul might rephrase it is, “you have to be a prisoner of somebody”

Paul chose to be a prisoner of Jesus Christ.

He lived for one thing, to serve Jesus.
You might say he was “captured” by His love. Paul said “the love of Christ controls me” (2Cor. 5:14)

Who are you a prisoner of?

It seems that Paul stops mid-sentence. In verse 14 he’ll pick up his thought again, when he prays for the Ephesians. But before he prays, he wants to talk a bit more about the “mystery” of Christ and the Gentiles.

:2 if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you,

dispensationoikonomia – literally “the law of the house”; stewardship. The idea is that God, the head of the house, has given Paul as a worker in the house, a job to do, the job being telling the Gentiles about the grace of God.

:3 how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery

mysterymusterion – something that once was hidden but has now been revealed.

:3 (as I have briefly written already,

Paul has already mentioned this “mystery”.  We’ve seen in the last chapter (2:11-22) how Jesus had planned on saving the Gentiles.

:4 by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ),

:5 which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets:

There are some hints in the Old Testament that God cared for the Gentiles.

(Isa 11:10 NKJV) "And in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse, Who shall stand as a banner to the people; For the Gentiles shall seek Him, And His resting place shall be glorious."

But the prophets of the Old Testament didn’t quite get it.  It wasn’t until the time of the New Testament that it became clear that God’s purpose was to save the Gentiles as well as the Jews.

:6 that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel,

Something sticks out as you read this verse in the Greek, the next three phrases are simply three words, and they all are words that have the same prefix attached to them. It’s sort of an alliteration. The prefix is the preposition “sun”, which means “with” or could be translated as “fellow-…”

(Eph 3:6 NASB) …are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel,

The mystery was how the Jew and Gentile believers could be “together” at all.

:7 of which I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of His power.

I thought I’d talk a little this morning about “the ministry”.


The Ministry

A passenger jet was suffering through a severe thunderstorm. As the passengers were being bounced around by the turbulence a young woman turned to a minister sitting next to her and with a nervous laugh asks, “Reverend, you’re a man of God, can’t you do something about this storm?” To which he replies, “Lady, I’m in sales, not management.”
Before I talk any more about “the ministry”, I’m curious about how many of you this might actually apply to.
How many of you here today are actually in “the ministry”?
How many of you here today are believers and followers of Jesus Christ?
We have this idea that the “minister” is the person who is paid by the church to do the “church work”, whatever that is.  But we’ve actually got it all backward.  Yes, I may be a pastor, but my job as a pastor is …

(Eph 4:12 NKJV) for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry (same Greek word, diakonos), for the edifying of the body of Christ,

Every one of you who claims to be a believer and follower of Jesus Christ is in the ministry.  And my job is to help you learn to do the ministry.

Lesson #1

Ministry is serving

The Greek word Paul used to describe himself (“minister”) is diakonos, which simply means a “servant”.  It’s not some hoity-toity profession where you act better than others and wear a funny collar on your shirt.
There is nothing fancy about being a servant.  In our English language we’ve taken the word “minister” and turned it into something classy and special.  I hope we don’t do the same with the word servant.
The disciples had a difficult time understanding this concept of being a servant.
James and John had tried to talk to Jesus alone and see if Jesus would make them His right hand men.
(Mark 10:41-45 NKJV)  And when the ten heard it, they began to be greatly displeased with James and John. {42} But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, "You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. {43} "Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. {44} "And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. {45} "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."

The one who wants to be greatest needs to be the servant of all.

On the evening of the Last Supper, Jesus did something strange.  He took off his robe and began to wash each disciple’s feet.  This was strange because this was something that was reserved for the lowliest of servants.  The disciples were rather uncomfortable having their Master and Teacher washing their feet.
(John 13:12-17 NKJV)  So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? {13} "You call me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. {14} "If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. {15} "For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. {16} "Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. {17} "If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

If you are a person who is serving the Lord, you will find that there will be times when God is going to ask you to do something that’s a bit uncomfortable.  But that’s what a servant does.  He serves.

A servant doesn’t get a lot for what he does.
(Luke 17:7-10 NLT)  "When a servant comes in from plowing or taking care of sheep, he doesn't just sit down and eat. {8} He must first prepare his master's meal and serve him his supper before eating his own. {9} And the servant is not even thanked, because he is merely doing what he is supposed to do. {10} In the same way, when you obey me you should say, 'We are not worthy of praise. We are servants who have simply done our duty.'"

It is okay to say “thank you” when someone blesses you.  But as a servant, you have to be careful not to be doing things for the “thanks”.  We do them because we are servants.

Lesson #2

Ministry is graced, not earned

Paul said it was “according to the gift of the grace of God given to me”
It doesn’t come because you are highly qualified or incredibly trained.
It comes because God is gracious to you.
When Jesus called twelve men to be His apostles, He didn’t go to the local seminary to get the best theologians.  He didn’t go to the local theater to get the best actors or speakers.  He didn’t go to the stadium to find the best athletes.  He found simple guys at work.  Some were fishermen, one was a tax collector, and we don’t know a whole lot about the others.
After Jesus died, rose from the dead, and ascended to heaven, two of the disciples got into trouble in their early days of ministry.  Peter and John had healed a lame man and then claimed that it was Jesus who had worked through them.  When they were brought before the Jewish leaders, Peter gave an amazing speech about Jesus that just flabbergasted his audience.
(Acts 4:13 NKJV) Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus.
Now don’t misunderstand me.  It’s not a bad thing to be educated.  It’s not a bad thing to keep learning to improve your ministry.
But you don’t have to be something special to be used by the Lord.
In fact, God sometimes like to purposely use a “nobody”, just so people will realize that He’s the one at work.
Paul wrote,
(1 Cor 2:1-5 NLT)  Dear brothers and sisters, when I first came to you I didn't use lofty words and brilliant ideas to tell you God's message. {2} For I decided to concentrate only on Jesus Christ and his death on the cross. {3} I came to you in weakness--timid and trembling. {4} And my message and my preaching were very plain. I did not use wise and persuasive speeches, but the Holy Spirit was powerful among you. {5} I did this so that you might trust the power of God rather than human wisdom.

Lesson #3

Ministry is done with God’s power

Paul said it was given to him “by the effective working of His power”
It is to be done with God’s power, not our power.
After Jesus died and rose again, He was ready to hand the ministry over to His disciples.  But before they did anything, they were to wait in Jerusalem until they received power from God.
(Acts 1:8 NKJV)  "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."
Power and prayer – I wonder if there isn’t a connection with how much of our personal ministry is being energized by God and the amount of time we spend in prayer.
When the early church began to grow, things began to get quite busy and hectic.  The apostles asked the church to raise up “deacons”, or “servants” to help with the work.  There was a reason –

(Acts 6:4 NKJV)  "but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word."

Serving and prayer aren’t mutually exclusive.  Sometimes we get to thinking that we’re too busy serving to spend time in prayer.  I think we have it backwards.  I think we have so much serving to be done that we can’t afford not to pray.
Martin Luther (1483-1546) on prayer:

“It is well to let prayer be the first employment in the early morning and the last in the evening. Avoid diligently those false and deceptive thoughts which say, “I will pray an hour hence; I must first perform this or that.” For with such thoughts a man quits prayer for business, which lays hold of and entangles him so that he comes not to pray the whole day long.”

“Prayer is the most important thing in my life. If I should neglect prayer for a single day, I should lose a great deal of the fire of faith.”

“I am so busy now that if I did not spend two or three hours each day in prayer, I would not get through the day.” (wow!)

“To pray well is the better half of study.”