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Bible kevinroosecomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Ephesians 3:13

13 So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.

———————————————————————————————

Last week’s post introduced Paul’s letter and greeting to the Ephesians.

Thankfully, most of Ephesians is in the three-year Lectionary, so I will write about it more in detail once I begin preparing exegeses of the Sunday Epistles.

For now, however, as this is such a beautiful book, I will post the text below, emphases mine.

Here is Ephesians 2, particularly meaningful as, in 2022, Pentecost Sunday is on June 5:

By Grace Through Faith

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body[a] and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.[b] 4 But[c] God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

One in Christ

11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens,[d] but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by[e] the Spirit.

In the first part of Ephesians 3, Paul reveals the mystery of the Gospel, which is that Gentiles are equal heirs to the promise of eternal life through Christ Jesus:

The Mystery of the Gospel Revealed

For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is[a] that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

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. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in[b] God, who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. 

Paul was in prison when he wrote this letter (Ephesians 3:1), as last week’s post explained. It is amazing that someone in prison would be determined to write a letter to a church congregation. Yet, Paul was that sort of Apostle, a bondservant to Christ, to whom he devoted his life. Because he devoted his life to our Lord, he was determined that the congregations of the churches he planted delve even deeper into doctrine, correcting some churches, e.g. the Corinthians and the Galatians, when necessary.

Coming to verse 13 now, Paul tells the Ephesians that they should not be afraid for him in his suffering, because he is doing it for their glory, meaning not only for their blessed conversion but also the life to come in eternity with Jesus.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

… seeing Paul while he was a prisoner employed himself in such prayers to God in behalf of the Ephesians, we should learn that no particular sufferings of our own should make us so solicitous about ourselves as to neglect the cases of others in our supplications and addresses to God. He speaks again of his sufferings: Wherefore I desire that you faint not at my tribulation for you, which is your glory,Ephesians 3:13; Ephesians 3:13. While he was in prison, he suffered much there; and, though it was upon their account that he suffered, yet he would not have them discouraged nor dismayed at this, seeing God had done such great things for them by his ministry. What a tender concern was here for these Ephesians! The apostle seems to have been more solicitous lest they should be discouraged and faint upon his tribulations than about what he himself endured; and, to prevent this, he tells them that his sufferings were their glory, and would be so far from being a real discouragement, if they duly considered the matter, that they ministered cause to them for glorying and for rejoicing, as this discovered the great esteem and regard which God bore to them, in that he not only sent his apostles to preach the gospel to them, but even to suffer for them, and to confirm the truths they delivered by the persecutions they underwent. Observe, Not only the faithful ministers of Christ themselves, but their people too, have some special cause for joy and glorying, when they suffer for the sake of dispensing the gospel.

John MacArthur explains why Paul felt so deeply for his congregations, even in prison:

You understand why Paul felt so deeply about this when you recognize that it cost him his freedom, and then it cost him his life. I mean, the whole episode that got him to prison—maybe as many as five years in prison by the time he writes Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon—the whole episode that got him to prison was that the Jews tried to kill him in a mob action in Jerusalem for preaching that Gentiles were acceptable to God. The Romans rescued him from the mob. And again, they were trying to kill him for saying God was bringing Gentiles into this new humanity called the church. That’s how disastrous such a thought was to Jewish people, and even Jewish believers. It cost him his freedom, and then it cost him his life when an executioner chopped his head off in prison in Rome.

Of course, the Gentiles persecuted him, too:

The great challenge for Paul was not just preaching the gospel to the Gentiles—and that was a challenge, believe me, because he was persecuted by the Gentiles for his message of the gospel. But I think an even greater challenge was getting the Jews and the Gentiles to accept each other, to accept each other in the body of Christ. And the reason I say that is because he deals with it in chapter 2, he deals with it in chapter 3, and then he deals with it in chapter 4. It’s as if he just cannot let go of this very difficult issue.

Of course, we today do not consider that welcoming Gentiles into the Church as equal partners with Jewish converts was any mystery, but it was revealed fully and actively in the New Testament. Paul’s letters were written before the Gospel accounts of Christ’s ministry, and this is why he puts special emphasis on the divine revelation he received not only in his Damascene conversion but also in the three years he spent in the desert in Nabatean Arabia before he began to evangelise.

MacArthur explains. It is serendipitous that he cites the Gospel for the day on which I am writing this, the Seventh Sunday of Easter (Year C), John 17, our Lord’s prayer for our unity in Him and the Father:

So the Old Testament was very clear that God is going to save the world; He’s going to save the nations—and He’s been doing that. That was supposed to be, of course, His plan and His purpose; and it was, even in the Old Testament. And the people of Israel were to be the instrument, the witness nation. They, as you clearly know, were unfaithful and apostate. The time came when they not only rejected God, not only followed idols, not only hated their neighbors instead of loving them, but they rejected the Messiah. And so on the day of Pentecost the Lord made a new covenant people, a new humanity: the church, the church of Jesus Christ. And we are now one.

And the imagery is a metaphor that’s not in the Old Testament. It’s—the church is called the body of Christ. That is the most integrated of all metaphors used to speak of people’s relationship to each other and to God. In the Old Testament the people of God are called subjects of a kingdom. They’re even identified as a bride to God who is the Bridegroom. They’re identified as a family. But never is Israel seen as a body. The intimacy and the organistic relationships that exist in the church are new in a fresh way, and that is because the Holy Spirit has come in a fullness to bring about this one new man.

Now, Jesus in His prayer in John 17 told us why this was so important, and it’s the very reason we exist. Listen to John 17:21; He’s praying to the Father, and He says, “[I pray] that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.” So what’s at stake here? The world believing that God sent Christ. The whole of Christianity rises or falls on the fact that they are one.

And down in verse 23, He essentially repeats it: “I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You loved Me.” How is the world going to know that the gospel is true, that God, the God of the Bible, is the true and living God, the only God, and that Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of the world? How is the world going to know that? By the unity of the church.

That unity, MacArthur tells us, was Paul’s primary goal and one he gladly risked beatings, scourgings and prison for:

Paul is going to try to bring the Jew and the Gentile together when there has been nothing but animosity, nothing but animosity, and massive cultural differences, cultural differences by design that totally isolated the Jews, purposely, so they couldn’t easily interact with the Gentile because they would then be pulled more easily into idolatry. They had so many traditions that even today when we see one of those rare, anachronistic, orthodox Jews walking around, he looks like he’s from another era or another planet. But that adherence to that would have been similarly, completely odd throughout all of their history.

So Paul’s task is to bring everyone together

So Paul has made an issue out of this because in the formative time of his life and ministry, this was a very, very challenging task. Now he wants us to understand it; that’s what he says in verse 4. I’m saying more because I want you to understand it. Chapter 3 really began with him starting to pray, “For this reason I, Paul, prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—” and then he just stops, and you have a parenthesis from verse 2 to 13. And he picks up the prayer in verse 14 again by saying the same thing, “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father.” It’s as if he says, “I’m ready to pray that you’ll understand this—oh, I don’t think I can do that yet; I have to tell you some more. You don’t know enough; you don’t know enough. That prayer can’t be answered unless you have further revelation.” So that’s why he unfolds this mystery in these opening thirteen verses.

Now we started last time with the first point, the prisoner of the mystery, the prisoner of the mystery; and this is really important. Paul introduces himself, “I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus.” In chapter 4, verse 1, “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord.” He is not talking about some spiritual relationship; he is a prisoner. He is in a prison. And as I said, he may have been there as much as five years. And the reason he’s in that prison is because the Romans rescued him from a mob of Jews in Jerusalem who were going to kill him, murder him on the spot. They took him into protective custody, and then they had him on their hands. They finally take him to prison in Rome, and in his imprisonment he writes this wonderful epistle.

MacArthur reminds us that Paul, as Saul, would have been the least likely man to promote Christian unity. Yet, God had a plan for him:

The Lord doesn’t pick somebody who had had some experience in conciliating Jews and Gentiles. You get that? No, He didn’t pick somebody who had showed he could broker a relationship. He picks a Jew who was killing Gentiles to be the reconciling minister. And in fact, he says, “I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions.” He says more about that in Philippians. He was fanatical, Pharisaical, fanatical Judaism. And God selects a fanatical Jew who hates Gentile[s], and who is as extreme a legalist as is possible, to be the one to preach that Jew and Gentile are one in Christ.

Now how does he convince Paul to do this? It wasn’t easy, verse 15, “But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb”—he knows he was ordained from his mother’s womb to this—“and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood.” Why? Well who would he go to?

When he finally does get to Jerusalem a number of years later, they don’t like the idea that Gentiles are to be accepted into the body of Christ even then. So who’s going to come and be an ally to him? No one necessarily. So what do you do? He said, “I didn’t go to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me. I didn’t even go to the apostles because the message would probably not be understandable to them. I went away to Arabia”—Nabataean Arabia, east and south from the land of Israel—“and returned once more to Damascus. Then”—verse 18—“three years later I went to Jerusalem.” Oh.

How long did it take for Paul to get this through his thick skull? Apparently three years before he was going to test-drive this in Jerusalem. This is just too extreme, too extreme. So he’s converted; he goes to Arabia; at some point he comes back to Damascus. Three years of divine revelation from Christ to transform this killer of Gentile Christians into one who’s the apostle to the Gentiles and has the responsibility to bring Jew and Gentile together in the church.

So back to verse 3 of Ephesians 3, “By revelation was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote in brief. By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ.” “The Lord gave me insight”—sunesis—“the Lord gave me understanding over all that period of time, that the mystery of Christ was to be the message to preach, which in other generations,” verse 5, “was known.” And the ministry of Paul is to preach Christ to the Gentiles, and to the Jew and Gentiles, that there is one body of Jew and Gentile, one in Christ.

Now that’s the prisoner of the mystery. At least let me give you a second point: the planning of the mystery, verses 5 and 6, the planning of the mystery. And this is pretty evident by now. What is a mystery of Christ? It is that “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.”

So a mystery is not something that is intended to be obscure or oblique. A mystery, specifically the term mustērion in the New Testament, refers to something hidden in the past and revealed in the new. Other generations it wasn’t made known; now it is revealed. And he said it was “revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit.” By the revelation of the Spirit, all Scripture is given by inspiration of God. All divine revelation comes by the agency of the Holy Spirit.

And it came to the apostles. Now “apostles” in the sense here, as you would obviously know it, of the twelve—minus Judas, plus Matthias, plus Paul—these are chosen men, and there was a criteria for that choice. Listen to 1 Corinthians 9:1; Paul says, “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” What was the qualification for an apostle? He had to have seen Christ and seen the risen Christ. And Paul had that experience on the Damascus Road and a couple of other times as well.

So this revelation has been revealed to Paul, and not only to Paul but to the holy apostles as well. The other apostles had come to understand this, but it was Paul’s unique responsibility to go to the Gentiles. And the apostles were then to proclaim this. John gives us a wonderful picture of that, 1 John 1, verses 1 to 3. Here’s John giving us kind of a rundown on the apostles’ ministry. He’s speaking in the plural for himself and the other apostles: “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life.” The Word of Life is Christ

So John is telling us, basically coming back behind Paul and bolstering Paul’s purpose, we all were called to this: We were all called to proclaim Christ. But Paul particularly had this responsibility of bringing Jew and Gentile together. And that’s what verse 6 is saying: “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.” Just an incredibly difficult task.

At some point in the future, God will fulfil His promise to Israel as they, too, convert in great numbers (Romans 11:25-28):

God is not through with Israel; He’s going to go back and save Israel. He is now calling out His church, but His promises to Israel cannot be revoked because the gifts and callings of God are not subject to change.

So when the church is complete and the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, the Lord will then turn to the salvation of Israel, as He promised. In the future they will look on the One they’ve pierced, and they will mourn for Him as an only son—meaning they’ll see Christ for who He was—and salvation will come to Israel, and all Israel will be saved. But at the front end, this was a profoundly difficult ministry. And it cost Paul his life, a price he was willing to pay, because his stewardship was given to him by God.

The rest of Ephesians 3 follows:

Prayer for Spiritual Strength

14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family[c] in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

In Ephesians 4, Paul begins a focus on Christian behaviours, telling the Ephesians how they can ‘put on a new self’ through spiritual renewal in the likeness of God.

Next time — Ephesians 4:17-24

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