Ephesians 3:1-13


The Old Testament lesson for this day is Isaiah 60:1-16. It is a clear prophecy of the preaching of the Gospel to the Gentiles. Look also at Isaiah 42:6; 49:6; and 62:2.

The Gospel for this day, the coming of the Wise Men from the East, is a strong hint at the fulfillment of these prophecies which would blossom in the preaching of Paul.

In His first sermon at Nazareth in Luke 4:16-29 Jesus clearly gives two examples from the Old Testament as to what was coming. Before Acts 1:8 the twelve were ordered not to preach to the Gentiles, Matthew 10:5. But Pentecost and what is carefully described in Acts 10 to 15 changed all that.

The twelve were told to start in Jerusalem, Acts 1:8, and go to the uttermost parts of the earth, first to the Jew but then also to the Gentile. But when Paul started preaching the Gospel, he was commissioned at Antioch and immediately began preaching to the Gentiles. Paul was known as the Apostle to the Gentiles, Galatians 2:9. Paradoxically, the church's bloodiest enemy became the one highly favored to carry out the prophecies of the universal preaching of the Gospel.

Ephesians 3:1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles --

The thought of this verse is picked up again at verse 14. The thought "prisoner of Christ Jesus" is suspended until verse 14. Verses 12-14, though made up of two sentences, are a grand insertion, an insertion very necessary for the understanding of verse 14-21.

Note that Paul calls himself THE prisoner of the Lord. And that he was. He was now in prison in Rome simply because he had preached to the Gentiles.

Ephesians 3:2 Surely you have heard about the administration of God's grace that was given to me for you,

Paul knew the Ephesian Christians personally. He speaks of himself as a steward of God.

"The administration of God's grace" could also be translated "this special work of showing God's favor." Stoeckhardt defines it as "Paul's conduct in this office." Lenski defines it as "how Paul conducted his office." These verses are called an expansive description of the office of Paul as the Apostle to the Gentiles.

Paul's office was a gracious gift. It was given and it was for their sake, for their benefit.

Lenski: By 'the grace given to me for you' Paul refers to his office as an apostle to the Gentiles, Acts 9:15; 22:21; 26:17-18; Galatians 2:8.

Ephesians 3:3 that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly.

"Mystery" is that which a human being cannot know but which is revealed by God. For more on "by revelation" see Galatians 1:12 and Acts 9:3-4. Part of the mystery is that the Gentiles share in knowing Christ, verse 6.

Stoeckhardt: Even at the time of his conversion the mystery which this call involved was made known to him.
Lenski: Paul specifies what underlies his office and the administration of it that was heard by these Ephesians. . . The Gentiles were to be received into the Church on identical terms with the Jews. . . . The word 'mystery' is here used in the current sense, not something to remain hidden, but something requiring revelation to become known. Paul adds 'even as I have already written in brief,' namely in 2:11-22, where he told the Gentile Christians to remember what they once were and what they now have become.

Ephesians 3:4 In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ,

"In reading this" means "with reference to what I have said." This does not refer exclusively to these few verses, but to the whole thought of the passage.

Stoeckhardt: In verse 4 Paul is referring again to what he had written in 2:11-22, namely, that through Christ the Gentiles had been brought near and had become fellow citizens with the saints and members of the very family of God.
Lenski: By reading 2:11-22 the Gentile Christians will get to understand Paul's full grasp of this mystery, which God's direct revelation had opened up to him.
Bengel: This book is very sublime, and yet it is given to all to read . . . Paul wrote more plainly and sublimely in this epistle, than in any other before.
Stoeckhardt: Paul is not referring here to general Christian truth and doctrine, but rather to the mystery of the participation of the Gentiles in the kingdom of Christ.
Lenski: The 'mystery of Christ' means the whole Gospel. It could be translated 'the Christ-mystery.'

Ephesians 3:5 which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God's holy apostles and prophets.

"In other generations" means "in all previous generations."

"Men" means mankind in general. Paul does not rule out the fact that the Gospel had been revealed in the Word of God. Look at Isaiah 42:6; 49:6; 60:3; 62:2.

Bengel: He does not say 'was not revealed.' . . . Revelation is something more special; 'making known' occurs in the hearing of others also; Revelation is only made to the prophets.
Stoeckhardt: Even the Prophets of the Old Testament had prophesied of the entrance of the Gentiles into the kingdom of the Messiah, but these prophecies had not become generally known to the very people who were concerned, the Gentiles throughout the world.
Lenski: It was indeed revealed in those past generations, for all the prophets tell about it, but it was not made known to the sons of men, not carried abroad to men in general.

"God's holy prophets and apostles" denotes those in the New Testament through whom God gave His inspired words. This verse clearly teaches the doctrine of inspiration. God gave the prophets and the apostles His Word.

Stoeckhardt: Even at the Apostolic Council in Acts 15 both Peter and James testify that God is minded to gather to Himself a people from among the Gentiles . . . It was the specific call and duty of Paul to proclaim the Gospel among the Gentiles and thus to establish the Christian Church in heathen lands.
Lenski: We know of none save the apostles who received by direct revelation either the whole Gospel of Christ, or that part of it pertaining to the Gentiles.

The prophets and apostles were "holy" in the sense that God set them aside for this specific purpose.

Here we are reminded of Acts 10:44; 11:15-17; Cornelius and the Gentiles; also Acts 8:15; Samaritans; and Acts 15:8-12.

Ephesians 3:6 This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

The content of the Gospel is a mystery which is expressed in specific and clear words.

"Heirs" and "sharers" are synonyms.

Through Christ's redemption salvation is objectively theirs, and through the Gospel which they accept by faith this salvation is also subjectively their very own possession.

"Members" is "fellow body-members." The term is found only here in the New Testament.

Lenski: Christ Jesus is named as the 'merit cause' of our salvation, absolutely equal for Gentiles and for Jews.

"Gospel" here clearly denotes the means of grace, Word and Sacrament.

Ephesians 3:7 I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God's grace given me through the working of his power.

"Servant" is "minister."

Above Paul mentioned "the grace of God," here he calls it "the gift of the grace of God." That indicates its unmerited bestowal on Paul. He had been a bloody murderer of God's children. But, wonder of wonders, he became God's "servant" only because of the free gift of God's grace.

Everything in this verse stresses the fact that the Gospel is a gift. The longer a Christians lives, the more he ought to say: "Oh give thanks unto the Lord!"

"Power" is often translated as "miracle." It denotes God's almighty power. But the text does not mean that God used mere omnipotence to convert Paul.

Lenski: Not that omnipotence converted and instated him into his ministry. This opinion is held by many, but is mistaken. Grace did both, as Paul states here and elsewhere. See Acts 9:6.

That God, in His grace and mercy, makes the unwilling willing, not by mere brute force but by effectual, powerful grace, is indeed a deep mystery.

Stoeckhardt: In verse 7 the specific grace which God has bestowed upon him is this, that through him and his service the Gospel is to be made known among the Gentiles. In speaking of this he calls attention to the fact that in this his service of preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles the effectual working of God's power is demonstrated. The transcendent greatness of God's power and might is effective both in those who preach and in those who hear and believe the Gospel, 1:19.

Ephesians 3:8 Although I am less than the least of all God's people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ,

Rienecker: The form, a comparative of a superlative, was used to designate the deepest self-abasement.
Bengel: He implies that he scarcely reckons himself among the saints. Most elegant modesty.
Stoeckhardt: Just as Paul calls himself the least of the Apostles, 1 Corinthians 15:9, so he here designates himself as the least of all saints, all Christians, because he had persecuted the Church of God.

By the way, this would be a good text to use with a person who considers himself and his condition so hopeless that there is no help for him.

By "this grace" Paul, of course, means his Apostleship. It is explained in verse 8 and 9.

What are the unsearchable riches of Christ? In all simplicity it is the Gospel. Look at Romans 11:33. The word "unsearchable" is translated "unfathomable, untraceable, and infinite."

Stoeckhardt: The riches of Christ consist in the fullness of salvation of all those spiritual, heavenly blessings gained by Christ's merits which have been enumerated in the first section of this Letter. These riches are literally 'unsearchable,' they defy search and discovery. There are no footprints leading to them which a person may follow in order to find them. The Apostolic message alone reveals them.
Lenski: In all the universe no track or trace existed, by following which men's minds could ever have discovered these riches of Christ.

By the way, all Paul did was to announce, preach the riches. The riches already exist. Faith, generated by the Gospel, merely lays hold of them. There are no spiritual riches outside of Jesus Christ. "Of Christ" tells us what kind of riches, and also denotes the source of the riches.

Ephesians 3:9 and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things.

On this verse compare verse 5, the mystery of the participation of the Gentiles in the riches of Christ.

Stoeckhardt: The 'church' is the 'realization' of the mystery, and that was the work entrusted to Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles. He was to be a chosen vessel unto God to bear the name of Christ before the Gentiles and kings, Acts 9:15. Paul is the founder and organizer of the Church of the Gentile Christians. All later mission work among the heathen is a continuation of the work of that first, unique heathen missionary, Paul, who has filled the Orient and the Occident with the Gospel of Christ. . . .God, the Creator of all things, creates and orders aright also the exact times for executing what He has kept hidden for years. The Church of Christ owes its existence to the creative power of God -- it is a new creation, 2:10. In this Church the purpose of creation is realized.
Lenski: 'In God' means in his mind, counsel, or plan. The Old Testament prophets indeed revealed this hidden mystery, but this revelation stated that hosts of Gentiles should come in, in fact that all these should come in, verse 6 states, as one perfect equality with Israel's believers, was still left veiled. Paul's administration of the mystery astonished the Jews, even aroused their most violent antagonism.

"To enlighten" is to be taken literally. Paul, through his preaching, made known the secret which had been hidden from all previous generations. The "hiddenness" has come to an end. There is a sense in which every Gentile, Christian congregation ought to be named after St. Paul.

By the way, the evolutionist or the person who denies the article of creation out of nothing by the Word of God just can't possibly be a true child of God. God, the Creator of all things, ordered matters in such a manner that through Paul the hidden mystery was made known.

Ephesians 3:10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms,

The contents of this verse is awesome. How do the holy angels, the principalities and powers, know the manifold wisdom of God? By the preaching of the Gospel done by the church. "Manifold" means "in all it's different forms, comprehensive, in all its varied forms, many-sided."

Stoeckhardt: The principalities and powers that are mentioned here appear as the witnesses and admirers of the wisdom of God, which is made know through the Church. . . These heavenly spirits rejoice to see this glorious work of God, His Church, grow in such a marvelous manner that from this lost, condemned mass of humanity there is built up that holy, perfect temple of God.

We are reminded of Luke 15:7 and 10 which informs us that angels rejoice each time a sinner repents. We are reminded of 1 Peter 1:12 which tells us that the angels desire to look into the mysteries of redemption. We are reminded of Hebrews 1:14 which tells us that God is constantly sending angels to serve us. What fascinates the angels? The Gospel. The world treads on it as nothing. Sometimes even the church does that.

"Manifold." We live in a "manifold" world of sin, confusion, disappointment, lack of justice, opposition, seeming impossibilities. But the Gospel is God's many-sided wisdom. The Gospel weaves a thousand apparently tangled threads into one glorious pattern.

Dear preacher, never tire of preaching God, reconciled to all men in Christ.

Ephesians 3:11 according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.

"According" means "in keeping with." How far back does this phrase go? All the way back to the beginning of verse 8.

The word "purpose" denotes both election and the mystery of the preaching of the Gospel to the Gentiles, hidden to former ages.

God's eternal purposes are always, always, IN CHRIST JESUS, never apart from Him. And note that Paul calls Him  our  Lord. Paul was a Jew, speaking to Gentiles. This genitive of relationship joins them together in fellowship.

Stoeckhardt: This choice or purpose of God is no other than that which Paul expounded in the first part of this Epistle, namely, God's counsel and purpose of election, according to which God determined before the foundation of the world to elect and select in Christ a large company of children. Included in this eternal counsel and purpose of God is also this office of the Apostle Paul, through which the elect children are to be gathered from among the Gentile nations and united as God's family in Christ.

Look at Ephesians 1:11.

Ephesians 3:12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.

In this verse we have the evidence  in time  of what God purposed in eternity

Stoeckhardt: The Apostle points to the present status and urges this to be a proof that God's eternal election has now become a reality. We Christians now have the relationship toward God. Our relation to God is that of children. We now have boldness and confidence in dealing with God. . . . this relation was brought about through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, subjectively,  through faith . . . It is through this very work of preaching the Gospel that from this ungodly world the Church of Christ, the UNA SANCTA, is gathered, the people of God are created, the purpose of the creation of the world is realized, the holy angels are moved and stimulated unto the praise of God, the eternal counsel and will of God is brought to successful execution.

Boldness and access go together. We approach God freely and boldly because of what Christ has done for us. NKJV: "In whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him." "Through" denotes the agency of faith. There can be no boldness, no access, no confidence unless there be faith.

Ephesians 3:13 I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.

Is Paul praying for himself not to grow weary or for his hearers not to grow weary? The latter is surely the meaning. All our translations take it that way. Paul had been in prison already for four years simply because he had preached the Gospel to the Gentiles. There was a tendency, evidently, on the part of his Gentile converts to grow despondent and to begin thinking that either this preaching was not God-pleasing or was in vain. Not so, says Paul. He was being afflicted for their sake. But rather than grow weary and despondent they ought rejoice. His afflictions are their glory.

What does that mean? Read the beatitudes, Matthew 5: 10-11.

Stoeckhardt: Do not allow your joy because of this blessing to be chilled or to be changed to discouragement and depression because of my suffering, my tribulation which I suffer for your sake, which after all belongs to my office and is not a disgrace, but an honor bestowed upon you.
Lenski: It is a striking statement that the apostle's tribulations are the glory of the Ephesians, not something about which to be discouraged but something in which to rejoice . . . If God permitted Paul to endure so much as the consequence of his work, this showed God's own estimate of his work.

True. If the reader of these notes finds himself in a situation of affliction, persecution, and rejection because of the preaching of the Gospel, he should rejoice and be exceeding glad because his reward is great in heaven.

In conclusion, note the repetition of several words in this pericope.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series A Epistle Texts, Festival Season Sundays, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1983, pp. 27-31. Used with permission.

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