Epiphany is on Wednesday, January 6.
Most churches using the three-year Lectionary for public worship will have used Epiphany readings instead of the one for Christmas 2.
However, for those who missed church or had different readings, what follows is an exposition of the Epistle for Epiphany in Year C: Ephesians 3:1-12.
What follows is the Lectionary reading from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible.
1 This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles–
2 for surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given me for you,
3 and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words,
4 a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ.
5 In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit:
6 that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
7 Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given me by the working of his power.
8 Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ,
9 and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things;
10 so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.
11 This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord,
12 in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.
St Paul was put in prison for putting Gentiles and Jews on an equal level theologically. He preached that they were united through Christ.
John MacArthur says that, at the time Paul wrote this letter, he had been a prisoner in for five years with a Roman soldier guarding him every minute of the day during that time. His first two years were in Caesarea, then followed three years in Rome where he was a prisoner in his own home.
Note that Paul does not say he is a prisoner of Rome but rather of Christ Jesus (verse 1). This is because he knew that, whatever suffering he endured, Rome had no real power over him. Via his conversion and ministry, Paul belonged to our Lord, hence he was His captive.
He adds that what he has preached and his time as a prisoner is for the sake of the Gentiles.
He speaks of the commission of divine grace which he was delivering for their benefit. MacArthur explains:
He says … I just want you people to know that this isn’t my idea. This is God’s.
Matthew Henry has this analysis:
He styles the gospel the grace of God here (as in other places) because it is the gift of divine grace to sinful men and all the gracious overtures that it makes, and the joyful tidings that it contains, proceed from the rich grace of God and it is also the great instrument in the hands of the Spirit by which God works grace in the souls of men.
Paul speaks of the divine mystery revealed to him, to which he alluded in Ephesians 1 and 2, albeit briefly (verse 3). Now he will reveal the mystery to them as he understands it (verse 4).
MacArthur interprets this for us:
The word knowledge in verse 4, is the word sunesis. It’s a wonderful word. He says, my purpose is to pass on my knowledge. And the word sunesis means mental comprehension, mental comprehension. And beloved, that always comes before spiritual application. You can’t apply what you don’t know. You’ve got to have a renewed mind … It is when we comprehend with our mind these great truths that they will affect the way we live and we can’t just exhort people to live a certain way unless we give them things to understand.
And so we meet the prisoner of the mystery. A man who so believed in the unity of the church that he literally gave his life for it. First to understand it, then to pass on that understanding, and then to pray that we would implement that understanding.
In verse 5, Paul says that this mystery had not been previously revealed. He means that the Old Testament people, including prophets, did not foresee the age of the Church. Therefore, it is upsetting to the Jews of Paul’s time to hear that they would be united with Gentiles. However, Christ’s presence on earth made this mystery of unity come to fruition (verse 6). Henry says:
This was the great truth revealed to the apostles, namely, that God would call the Gentiles to salvation by faith in Christ, and that without the works of the law.
Paul then says he is but a servant thanks to divine grace which God wrought in him (verse 7) and, of those servants, he is the very least (verse 8). Paul wrote this partly out of his deep humility but rather more because of the persecution he inflicted on Christians prior to his conversion. Despite those sins, now forgiven, God has given him the ministry of preaching of the boundless riches of Christ to the Gentiles and to reveal this mystery of salvation through Him (verse 9).
Henry has this observation about the King James Version text:
… it is an unspeakable favour to the Gentile world that to them the unsearchable riches of Christ are preached.
What are the unsearchable riches of Christ? They are all the truths about him. And all that he means to us. And a long time ago I committed myself that this is the priority of the ministry. To preach the unsearchable riches of Christ. And what does it mean? It means to tell people how rich they are in Christ. And that’s why I always talk about preaching the believers position. I’m not here just to browbeat you and make you feel bad and exhort you and club you and tell you to shape up and all that. I’m here to tell you how rich you are.
I believe I’ve been sent by God like Paul and every other man of God to preach the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ. Unsearchable means unfathomable, untraceable, can’t be measured, there’s no bottom. And so I can have the joy of just telling you how rich you are. If you’re a Christian, you are rich. Believe me you are incredibly rich. That’s my task as a minister a servant of Jesus Christ to tell you. In fact Paul says in 1 Colossians “that God had called him to preach and God wanted him to make known the riches of the glory of the mystery among the Gentiles.” He wants me to make known the riches of the glory of the mystery. The mystery is the church. You’re in the church; there are riches. And you need to know how rich you are. And so great part of the preaching of the word of God must be declaring to people the riches of Christ.
Paul says that the founding of the Church enabled this mystery to be revealed to ‘the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places’ (verse 10). Both commentators say the Apostle refers here to angels. MacArthur explains:
… the angels can see the power of God in creation. The angels can see the wrath of God at Mt. Sinai. The angels can see the love of God at Calvary, but God says they’re going to see my wisdom in the church. That God could take diverse male, female, bond, free, Jew, Greek and he could melt down all the walls and blend them together in an indivisible oneness all one with himself. One with the father, one with the Son, one with the Spirit, one with every other believer that God could do that kind of miracle of salvation is a wonder beyond wonders of wisdom and causes the angelic host to give him glory.
Paul writes that this was always God’s intention and Jesus Christ was the divine Person through whom this was made possible (verse 11). Furthermore, God the Son is our link to God the Father. Our faith, therefore, gives us ‘boldness and confidence’ in this regard (verse 12).
Henry interprets the final verses as follows:
… that is, “By (or through) whom we have liberty to open our minds freely to God, as to a Father, and a well-grounded persuasion of audience and of acceptance with him and this by means of the faith we have in him, as our great Mediator and Advocate.” We may come with humble boldness to hear from God, knowing that the terror of the curse is done away and we may expect to hear from him good words and comfortable. We may have access with confidence to speak to God, knowing that we have such a Mediator between God and us, and such an Advocate with the Father.
As for Paul’s plight, this wonderful mystery and the Ephesians, MacArthur says:
… if the mystery is so wonderful and the privileges are so incredible, I desire that you faint not at my tribulations for you which is your glory. You see Paul was around preaching the mystery and being a prisoner of the mystery and unfolding the plan and trying to help fulfill the purpose and he was telling everybody the privileges and some of the Christians were sitting back saying, oh, poor Paul, he’s always in jail.
And he says, look, when you understand this incredible truth, of what it is to be in the church and what privilege it is don’t faint at my tribulation. It’s worth it to get the message out. See? It’s your glory I mean it’s bringing glory to you, it’s bringing you the very glory of God. Don’t worry about me being a prisoner, don’t faint because I’m going through all kinds of difficulty, it’s worth it. It’s worth it. And there we are right back at the servant’s heart again, aren’t we?
He always felt that way whatever it cost me to get you the message is a cheap price. Don’t worry about me if I’m a prisoner, if I’m beaten, if I’m stoned, don’t worry about me. Don’t faint at my tribulation; just get the message. It’s worth it.
Do we share Paul’s passion and enthusiasm for this divine mystery of salvation and unity through Christ Jesus?
It is a question worth contemplating as Christmastide draws to a close.