3:1 ¶ For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles,
2 If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward:
3 How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words,
4 Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)
5 Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit;
6 That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel:
7 Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power.
8 Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ;
9 And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ:
10 To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God,
11 According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord:
12 In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him.
13 Wherefore I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory.
Before I begin, it must be noted that all "churches" are not the "church which is His body" (Col.1:18). There is the "church in the wilderness" (Acts 7:38) which was the assembled Nation of Israel, under the law (cf.Gal.3:24). There is a Tribulation "church in Sardis" (Rev.3:1), which is dead (Rev.3:1; cf.Eph.2:1). There is a Tribulation "church in Thyatira" (Rev.2:18), which must "overcome and keep works unto the end" (Rev.2:26; cf.1 John 4:4; Eph.2:8-9). There is a Tribulation "church of the Laodiceans" (Rev.3:14), which may be "spued out of Christ's mouth" (Rev.3:16; cf.Rom.8:38-39). In Acts 19:37, "churches" are connected with idolators before any "Christian Church building" was established (circa 350 A.D.), and the "confused" (1 Cor.14:33) "assembly" (Greek: ekklesia) (Acts 19:32) was made up of idol makers and idol worshippers (Acts 19:34).
Verse 2: "If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God..."
Though we commonly call the Church Age "the Dispensation of Grace," which it is, Paul's meaning, here, is that grace was dispensed to him to be ministered to others. It does not mean that a "period of time" was given to him. The "dispensation" of grace means just what it says: the "distribution" of grace. Cornelius was saved by grace (Acts 10:44) while Paul was in Arabia, the Ethiopian Eunuch was saved by grace before Paul "saw the Light" on the Damascus Road, and the dying thief was saved by grace before Peter ever "talked in tongues." Noah, Adam, Abel, and Abraham were all saved by grace through faith apart from the works of the law, for the law didn't come until it was given to Moses on Mt. Sinai. In fact, Adam was saved by grace apart from any works at all (cf.Eph.2:9). A "period of time" was not given to Paul; rather, the grace which God gave to Paul (2 Cor.12:9) enabled him to understand the mystery "which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men" (v.5).
"Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God" (v.7), clearly defines verse 2.
Verse 3: "How that by revelation...." (see Gal.1:2-10). The Lord had promised to give Paul "revelation."
Acts 22:14 And he said, The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldest know his will, and see that Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of his mouth.
John 16:12 I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.
Verse 4: "He made known unto me the mystery." No statement was made to the effect that God started the mystery with Paul. By revelation, God made something known to him, and he had already spoken of it (v.3, "as I wrote afore in a few words") before this time. There is some dispute among scholars as to what the "afore" mentioned words were, but 1 Corinthians 12 and Galatians 2:2 seem the best choice to me, considering the context here, which is the mystery of the "one body" of Jews and Gentiles. Paul said nothing about writing to the Ephesians when he said "as I wrote afore in a few words," and he had been talking about the "body" as far back as Acts 15-16. The mystery was not that there would be a church which was His body; the mystery is defined in verse 6: "That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs and of the same body..."
Paul knew about Jews and Gentiles being "one body" in Christ every time he picked up his pen. He mentioned it in Romans 2-3, 12:4, 16:25, 1 Corinthians 12; Galatians 2, and Colossians 1 and 3. Paul, knowing the "mystery of the body" went right back into the Old Testament and applied the Millennial promises, and even some Jewish Tribulation promises (Gal.4:27), to saved Gentiles in the Body of Christ. This has led some expositors to wrongly believe that the "Church" began with Adam.
Verse 5: The mystery is "NOW REVEALED" unto the holy apostles and prophets "BY the Spirit" - not BY Paul.
The Body of Christ began in Acts 2, although a "way" was made for the formation of the body by Christ's finished work of Atonement at Calvary. This was unknown to the apostles and prophets of Acts 1-7, and Peter purposely spoke of "sins being blotted out" at the Advent, not at Calvary (Acts 3:19). The Body could not be formed until Christ's physical body had gone back to glory (John 20:22). It was formed without anyone's knowledge, and it was not prophesied to take place, in the O.T, even though it did take place. Having taken place, the Lord chose to withhold revelation about the true nature of the transaction until He called out the Apostle to the Gentiles (Rom.16:25). The revelation of what actually took place was given to this man; and once he had it in his possession, he went right back into the Old Testament (Rom.15) and produced verse after verse to prove that the truth was dormant in the O.T. even though it was not made known to the writers (1 Pet.1:11-2). There was a local church before Acts 2 (Matt.18:17), but in Acts 2 it became a living organism by the power of the Holy Spirit. This "body" will leave as fast as it came down (1 Cor.15:49-52). Peter, James, and John were in it before Paul was (Rom.16:7), and the fact that they did not have Paul's revelation means nothing at all in regard to the starting place of the "body of the mystery."
Verse 8: "...that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ." Paul did this before Acts 15, which is apparent from his visit to Jerusalem mentioned in Galatians 2:2.
There are a number of unsearchable things about God:
1. His peace is past finding out (Phil.4:7).
2. His gift cannot be described with words (2 Cor.9:15).
3. His love is unquenchable (Song 8:7).
4. His words are unspeakable (2 Cor.12:4).
5. His joy is unspeakable (2 Cor.12:4).
6. His greatness is infinite (Psalms 145:3).
7. His judgments are unsearchable (Rom.11:33).
8. And He Himself is past finding out (Job 11:7).
His Book is the King of Books, the Book to end all books, and His Book will judge every other book in the day that the "books are opened." God only wrote and preserved one Book (Psalms 12:6-7), and it is up to every born-again child of God to find out which one it is among the many that masquerade as "bibles."
Verse 9: "...what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God..." It was a mystery "hid IN God" and He could have revealed it to anyone from Adam to Publius (Acts 28:7) had He so desired, but He chose to reveal it to Paul, and part of Paul's ministry was letting Peter, James, and John, etc. (v.9: "all men") understand the mystery of Jew and Gentile together. He worked Simon Peter over with this back in Galatians 2, which see.
Verse 10: "To the intent that NOW unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places..." The creation and formation of the church is to be a demonstration to those spoken of in Ephesians 6:12 and Isaiah 24:21, for the body of Him that "filleth all in all" (Eph.1:23) fills the "breadth, length, depth, and height" of the universe (see comments on 3:18). The hosts of heaven are now entangled with a Spiritual Body that stretches from the planet earth to the Third Heaven (2 Cor.12:2). God's physical creation (Gen.1), mentioned in Colossians 1:16-17, is now connected with His spiritual creation; hence, the words in verse 9: "who created all things by Jesus Christ."
Verse 11 is self-explanatory. See 1:4 and comments.
Verse 12: "In whom we have boldness and access with confidence..." Hebrews 4:16 shows that this is the Christian approaching the Throne of the Majesty in Heaven, beyond all principality and power, not only in this world but in the world to come (see 1:21).
Verse 13 is self-explanatory (cf.1 Cor.4:10).
Application: To make "all" men see what is the "fellowship of the mystery" (v.9), so that the manifold wisdom of God might be known by (way of) the church (v.10). This all goes back to the stewardship of the mysteries commented on under 1 Corinthians 4:1.
Prayer for Realization, 3:14-21
14 ¶ For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
15 Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named,
16 That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man;
17 That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love,
18 May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height;
19 And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.
20 Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us,
21 Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.
Verse 14: "For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,"
Verse 15: "Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named." God is not everyone's Father. The family is plainly God's family, consisting of a variety of people through the ages with ONE THING in common: they believed what God said, no matter how ridiculous it may have sounded.
1. A company of Gentile believers before the law: Adam, Abel, Enoch, Noah, etc.
2. A Company of Gentile believers made Hebrews before the law: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, etc.
3. A company of Jewish believers under the law: Moses to John the Baptist.
4. A company of Gentile believers under the law: Romans 1-2.
5. A body of believers called out in the Church Age: Acts 2 to the Rapture.
6. A company of Tribulation Jews (Rev.14:1-6).
7. A company of Tribulation Gentiles (Rev.7).
8. Millennial saints.
God has a family, and in that family there is one bride (Eph.5:27; 2 Cor.11:1-3). This bride is for God's Son (Song of Solomon; Isaac & Rebecca), and she is not God's bride; she is Christ's wife (Eph.5:30; cf.Gen.2:23).
Verse 16: "That he would grant you..." (v.16). This is Paul's second prayer for the Ephesian converts, and a prayer, down through the centuries, for all converts. This time, the petitions are as follows:
1. That you might be "strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man (v.16).
2. That Christ might really be at home and dwell comfortably "in your hearts by faith" (v.17). This refers to the believer's personal relationship to Christ as someone who has moved in to share a home with him. The "indwelling" is not conditioned on faith or being in a "state of salvation" (see v.5) but refers to someone who is already dwelling and has come to stay (John 14:16). A life of faith will not grieve the dweller (Eph.4:30; Gal.2:20).
3. That you might be "rooted and grounded in love" as well as doctrine (v.17). This is the subject of 1 Corinthians 13.
4. That you might be able to "comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height" (v.18). Of what? The "love of Christ" makes a good devotional theme, but the genitive for verse 18 is found in verse 15 (heaven and earth), and again in verse 10 (heavenly places). It is mentioned again in 1:20-21 (heavenly places), again in 2:6 (heavenly places), and again in 1:10 (in heaven...on earth). The "breadth, and length, and depth, and height" are the same "height" and "depth" mentioned in Romans 8:39: "Nor HEIGHT, nor DEPTH, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Paul lived his life on this planet with a Cosmic orientation. Christians are strangers and sojourners on foreign soil. Our solar system is only one of several hundred in our nebula, which is only one in an uncountable number in the universe. We are South of the glorified body of Jesus Christ, who is seated on the right hand of a throne which is North of our position (Job 37:22; Isa.14:13; Psa.48:2).
Without thinking, Paul could point to the place where he was "caught up" (2 Cor.12:1-4). He was so aware of the size, shape, location, and atmosphere of that place that he said he would rather die immediately and go there than go on living (Phil.1:21; 2 Cor.5:8). This realization makes for a different kind of Christian; a "peculiar" (Tit.2:14; 1 Pet.2:9) Christian.
This type of Christian is described in Colossians 3:1-4. He knows where his body is in the universe, where his head is in the universe, is aware of the Body that fills this immense abyss called "the deep" in Genesis 1:3, and his oneness with that Body as a member of it (Eph.5:30). The measurements for the length, breadth, depth, and height of this abyss may be found in Exodus 25-40 (cf.2 Cor.5:1;Heb.3:6; 8:2-5; 9:2-21; Rev.13:6; 15:5; 21:3), but who is sufficient for these things (2 Cor.2:16)?
5. That you might "know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge" (v.19). This thought is similar to the "peace which passeth understanding" in Philippians 4:7. That is, it is better than understanding. The love of Christ manifested to the sinner is better than all the head-knowledge in the world concerning it.
6. And that you might be "filled with all the fulness of God" (v.19). This matches Ephesians 5:18, Galatians 4:19, and 5:16, which see. According to Colossians 2:9, the "fulness of the Godhead bodily" is available to the Christian. This accounts for the remarkable promise which follows: "...him that is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us" (v.20; cf.Rom.15:18).
1 Corinthians 2:16, Proverbs 25:3, Colossians 2:9, and Ephesians 4:9,13 should be read in conjunction with verses 18 and 19.
Verse 21 is self-explanatory. The "world without end" is the new earth of Revelation 21:1-2, and it will go on out into the "age of ages" forever. Christ is working IN the believer, He is working FOR the believer, and He is working NOW "according to the power that worketh in us." This is the power mentioned in 1:19. The Lord Jesus Christ went up through the literal depths to the literal height, and so will every born-again child in the family.