Ephesians 3:1-13 – Paul’s Gospel

Paul describes himself in 3:1 as “Paul the Prisoner of Christ Jesus.”  Traditionally wrote Ephesians while he was under house arrest in Rome.  While house arrest was not exactly the same as being cast in the deepest dungeon in Rome, he was restricted from doing the kind of ministry he would have liked.  In addition, Paul’s appeal to Caesar may in fact go very badly and he could be executed.

The reader of Ephesians may have had some questions about Paul’s argument to this point.  If Jesus has in fact destroyed the authority of the principalities and powers, why is Paul in prison?  How could a “triumphant gospel” be reconciled with Paul’s current shame of house arrest?  If the power of Satan has indeed been broken, how could Paul, as God’s apostle to the Gentiles, find himself treated in this shameful way?

Paul’s answer is to simply point out that despite the fact that he is Rome’s prisoner, the gospel itself is not in prison.  He is in exactly the place where God wants him to be.  In fact, as Timothy Gombis points out in his Drama of Ephesians, God often uses the weak to accomplish his plan so as to highlight the fact that it is God’s victory, not ours (111-2).  Paul himself says in 1 Corinthians that God chooses the foolish things of the world to confound the wise.  If the gospel spreads throughout the Roman Empire, it will be by the power of God, not the power of Paul the Prisoner.

There are a number of words in this section which describe Paul’s Gospel in apocalyptic terms.  The fact that his gospel is a “mystery” which must be revealed may very well be allusions to apocalyptic literature like Daniel. There are several examples in that book of visions which need to be “unveiled” for the reader.  It is as if God is fulling a curtain back to in order to reveal what is going on behind the scenes.  In apocalyptic literature, the one who is reading the book cannot make sense of the vision until an interpreter makes the meaning of the vision clear.

Paul is describing himself as the one who is revealing the plan of God for the present age.  Specifically, God is creating a new person, a “body of Christ” which is made up of both Jew and Gentile without distinction.  There is no racial, class, or gender distinctions in this new body, nor does anyone have an advantage if they are Jewish, male, or free.  Even if a person is a Roman citizen with wealth and prestige, there is no advantage in the body of Christ.

Like the great apocalyptic texts of the Hebrew Bible, Ephesians 3:1-13 declares that God has a plan to redeem the world.  That plan was made in eternity past and God will most certainly bring that plan to completion.  Something as minor as the Roman Empire cannot possibly hope to hinder the Gospel!  I think that this is the sort of message which American Christians need to hear, since no modern “empire” can hope to hinder the gospel.

26 thoughts on “Ephesians 3:1-13 – Paul’s Gospel

  1. Yes, “Paul the prisonser of Christ Jesus” (with the inversion of the name “Christ Jesus”) was always a spiritual blessing and reality for St. Paul, he was simply the chosen Bond-Servant of Christ! (Rom.1:1) And again we miss the “mind” of Paul, if we loose the first-person of Paul…”I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel. I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is the church.” (Col. 1:23-24, etc.)

  2. I think Paul was a great man of God, a great teacher and missionary for God; bringing Christ’s message to the unbelievers and to the lost. I think his imprisonment was God showing those who were almost worshiping Paul, that he was not the savior. I get upset sometimes at how much we Christians idolize Paul and his teachings and works… yes he was a great man of God and his ministry made a way for us to go out into the world and he gave great structural messages for the body of Christ; but I feel that he gets way more credit for his works than God does, Paul states in Ephesians 6:19 that fellow believers should pray for him that God will give him the words and that he may be able to relay the messages correctly. I think that was Paul saying that he can do nothing without God giving everything he needed.
    Ephesians 3:1-13 is Paul making it known he is in chains, but he will never cease to preach the gospel. a noble move and a great inspiration for us Christians, yet we almost see it as the greatest act in history. I know of many people, famous and un-famous who stand up for God daily and live out their faith even in imprisonment and torture, yet they do not get credit like Paul does.
    I do not mean to bash on Paul as much as I do, I think I am digging myself almost into a hole by opening my mouth about my views on Paul’s fame, and maybe I am just being a haughty and proud person, who does not like to give credit where it is due, but sometimes I am perturbed when Paul is put on such a high pedestal, I think he would really discourage if he were here how much we idolize him and take from his messages. I think we should look at what he says, understand it, learn from it, and put it into practice as he instructs, not dwell on the fact of how he made the point and from where.

    • Yes, the verses I quoted in Col. 1:23-24, and another section of verses in 1 Tim. 1:12-16 (noting especially verse 16!) place St. Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles, in a high position of grace & glory in God in Christ! Not to forget his martyrdom, which he surely saw coming! (2 Tim. 4: 6, etc.)

  3. Eph. 3:1-13 is one of those passages that fills me with such joy and hope! It’s always a blessing to have these reminders of the fact that we are “heirs”, “members”, and “sharers” together with Israel (Eph. 3:6) through Christ Jesus, and that we may “approach God with freedom and confidence” (Eph. 3: 12). It’s easy to forget this freedom and confidence in the midst of struggle and hardships, as Paul was facing with his house arrest. But in the midst of weakness, God often does his best work in and through us because we are willing and empty vessels. In the same way, this is a testament to God’s power rather than ours when His plans are fulfilled and the gospel is spread. “If the gospel spreads throughout the Roman Empire, it will be by the power of God, not the power of Paul the Prisoner.” (Long). This Jew-Gentile unity we now have in Christ as the mystery revealed through Paul is another opportunity for furthering God’s glory. “[Paul] saw the church’s unity as a powerful witness to God’s purpose to unite all things in Christ.” (368). In Eph. 1:22, Paul uses an analogy of the Church as a body and Christ as the head of the body. Perhaps Paul used this analogy to show how necessary it is to function through God’s power, with Christ as the head with full authority. “By describing Christ as head of the Church, Paul may have wanted to emphasize that the church derives from Christ. He is the source of the church’s very being.” (363). May we serve in light of the fact that Christ is the source of our very being! May we do all things through His power, not our own.

  4. I like the quote that Emily brought out from Polhill, “[Paul] saw the church’s unity as a powerful witness to God’s purpose to unite all things in Christ.” (368) because I see this idea as a common theme among much of Paul’s writings. The Church’s unity is key for the spreading of the Gospel. If we, as the Church, let the things of this world slow us down, be they trials or temptations, then how are we letting God use us for His work? We are obviously going to encounter these things, but Paul tells us in Ephesians 3:10 that our testimony is built so that, “the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” (ESV) This is such a powerful truth and and God has a redemptive plan the world to which we are ministering and like P. Long said, “That plan was made in eternity past and God will most certainly bring that plan to completion.” Where will we find a greater comfort or a stronger anthem?

  5. Amen Emily & Liz! The Catholic and Universal reality of The Redemptive Body of Christ, is simply but profoundly ‘In Christ’! Here is God’s great election of grace & glory! As people for both Jewish & Gentiles, and as the Church, making both Jew & Gentile One Body and Family In Christ. But the Covenant is always first Jewish, and comes from Jewish ground and Salvation History! (Rom. 1:16 ; 15:8-9 / John 4: 22)

  6. P. Long, I loved your closing paragraph, and I completely agree, God will bring [His] plan to completion,” but I feel that this statement can be used as an excuse for apathy. Yes, ultimately God will complete his plan, but He uses us to complete His plan. This is not to say that God needs us, but we are a part of His plan. I like to think that we are an important part of His plan. However, the completion of God’s plan is by no means dependent on our personal performance. As you said P. Long, “That plan was made in eternity past…” In light of what I have said, I believe we can take great comfort in these truths. We must simply remember to keep the correct mindset when considering God’s plan. Yes, it will most certainly be fulfilled, but will we dedicate ourselves to the plan anyway?

    • “…as an excuse for apathy.” Fair enough, I think that is the danger of any robust view of God’s sovereignty! We are always going to struggle with two facts, that God has planned things and that God expects us to act in some way that furthers his plans. They seem contradictory, but both are true.

  7. It would be quite easy to just give up hope during those times when it was made known that Paul was in prison. It is important to realize that even though Paul was shamed by being thrown under Roman power, he never gave up hope and he never stopped believing. I have always been very encouraged by Paul and his passion to serve Christ even in the face of some horrible situations. Viewing Old Testament prophecies and then again in Ephesians when God makes it extremely clear His plans to one day be revealed should make it a no brainer who we should be following. God’s plan will ultimately prevail and a simple set back as being under some other power besides Gods should never hold us back from ultimately pleasing God and fulfilling our purpose as followers of Him.

  8. God’s intent is that the church might be the messenger of God’s wisdom to the rulers and authorities of heavenly realms (Ephesians 3:10). “For Paul the realization of God’s plan to unify all things in Christ had already begun in the unity of Jew and Gentile in the church (Polhill 368). Paul gave these words (Ephesians 3:1-13) so that they (the Ephesians) would understand more of God’s love (Ephesians 3:17-21). Paul knew he really had little to do to do with receiving such a blessing, mystery, and message (Ephesians 3:7-8). This seems ironic because Paul’s name means little, small, or humble. I think Paul would have wanted to be remembered as such. In continuing his illustration of being a prisoner for the Lord, Paul urges us to live lives worthy of our calling (Ephesians 4:1). He stresses unity because it is our testimony to the world as Emily and Liz pointed out. Paul was a vivid example of what it looked like to preach unity and strive for it above all else. His ministry included hardship but it was for their glory as part of God’s will (Ephesians 3:13). “Members of the body are to be united, and unity is best accomplished by their exemplifying such selfless qualities as humility, gentleness, and patience” (Polhill 368). Paul was a living example of these qualities of the Spirit which bring about unity.

  9. Not even the Church can hinder God’s plan… even though we make a great effort to stand in his way… It is amazing that God still chooses to use such a broken tool to further his plan… It makes me laugh when I read people’s facebook status updates and they react against something that the government or society has done in such a way that insinuates that their rights have been trampled on… “this is a Christian nation!”… really? “gay/lesbian couples shouldn’t have legal marital status!”… you sure about that?… Romans 8:22 tells us that all of creation has been groaning because of the sin within it, why should we be surprised that the earthly principalities do things against God? God wins in the end, so instead of fighting an earthly power that tries to foolishly limit God’s plan, we should rejoice in God’s power as He moves forward despite what man does. God never said to go and make a Christian nation or go and prohibit homosexuals from marrying… he said go and make disciples of all nations… maybe we should focus on that and be content in our obedience… they can take everything away from me but they’ll never take my Jesus!

  10. In Ephesians 3 we find the use of the word ‘mystery,’ entailing that the apostle Paul received this as a revelation from Christ Jesus. What exactly is this mystery that Paul adheres to? Polhill writes on page 368, “At the beginning of Ephesians Paul described as a mystery God’s eternal plan for bringing all things together in Christ. (Ephesians 1:9-10) We find that the mystery stated by Paul is the unity in Christ. The distinction that there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, but all are one in Christ Jesus our LORD.

    I would like to bring up the point here that at Grace Bible College we get the viewpoint that the Body of Christ, or the Church, began in Mid Acts. Some points refer to Acts 9 with the salvation of the Apostle Paul, and others (which I pertain to because it makes more sense) in Acts 13 with the first distinction of a Body of both Jew and Gentile believers together. (We see in this distinction the unity that Paul describes in Ephesians 1 – 3) I would like to make an observation in the text of Ephesians 2:16.

    In this passage of Scripture it is talking about the two becoming one man (Jew and Gentile.) “His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross.” I would like to ask the question could the Body of Christ therefore begin at the cross from this text? This is where we see a clear distinction that the two become one man at the cross. Not that this post refers to that, but my mind thought about it as I read through Ephesians 3 and Polhill’s description of the passage.

    • Joe,

      Let me say right at the beginning, that I like very much from the pen of E.W. Bullinger. I have many of his works, and have also his Companion Bible. And he was an Anglican! 🙂 But, the essence of the Church surely began in Acts 2…note 2:42, etc.

  11. When it comes to God’s plan, there is nothing that can hinder it, not even the church. As Christians it is so easy to think that in the midst of trials and uncertainties, God’s plan will not be revealed much less completed. Ephesians 3:13 is a very encouraging passage for me and a challenging one at that. Paul says in verses 11-12 “according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” When it comes to the gospel, it is not hindered by a tiny fraction. When Paul is writing Ephesians, he is under house arrest in the city of Rome. I think he makes it very clear that the gospel itself is not in prison. I think Paul being in Prison was certainly a big part of God’s plan. He used that part of Paul’s life to spread the gospel so that people can see it for what it really is. God certainly uses the weak to do great things. Paul is undoubtly weak at this point. If people are impacted by the power of the gospel, it will be on account of the Holy Spirit, not Paul.

  12. As I was reading through these posts, I saw some thing said by Liz Pedersen that really made me think. “If we, as the Church, let the things of this world slow us down, be they trials or temptations, then how are we letting God use us for His work?” We get so caught up in this idea that these bad things are happening, and we let that get us down, and some times we get off of track with what we should be doing, or they affect our ministry. we feel bad for our selves. This is something I can say we all struggle with. We see Paul in this situation of being on “house arrest”, and yet he says that just because he is a prisoner of Rome, the gospel message is not. He continues to do the work that has been set before him, and I think he is someone we can look to for encouragement in battles such as these.

  13. I agree, America does need to hearthat the gospel cannot be tampered or hindered. So many peple want to rewrite history. Not just America’s history but also Biblical history. Many in power seek to sht out the truth. But passages like this one sheads light on hope. God is bigger, stronger and far more powerful than any government. We, as His children, have nothing to fear. Therefore, we should follow Paul’s example and keep on preaching the true gospel to no end.

  14. The fact that Paul described the Gospel as a mystery has always intrigued me to the point of being amazed and confused at the same time. Paul was so sure of his Gospel, but at the same time, described it as a mystery. Another thing I got out of this post, is that no matter how bad this world gets, and how bad we think the world is, God is going to make everything right. Also, the Gospel never changes, and is as powerful today as it was 2,000 years ago.

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

    • I know what you mean Cory. It is so comforting to know that God will never give us anything that we can’t handle. So when I come across things in life that I don’t think I can make it through, I know I can rely on that promise from Christ.

      I do agree that God is a mystery. Knowing how Christ works would take all of the questioning away from everyone, and there would be no need for God.

  15. “Paul’s answer is to simply point out that despite the fact that he is Rome’s prisoner, the gospel itself is not in prison. He is in exactly the place where God wants him to be.” When you said, or rather, wrote, this P. Long, I couldn’t help but sit there and let that sink in, especially the latter sentence. Paul was exactly where God wanted him to be, and we are exactly where we need to be. And maybe most importantly, the Gospel will never be imprisoned. No matter our situation, the gospel can be spread. Look at Paul himself, when he was imprisoned, he spread the gospel to the centurion and then to the centurion’s family. There are also the early Christians in general who had to fight against the grain of paganism. And the Gospel still spread out to those who needed it and were willing to accept it! We are all exactly where we are supposed to be for God’s mission and for the further spread of the Gospel, and we will continue to be until the Second Coming. We are made to bring Him glory, forever and for always, no matter where we are or what we are going through.

  16. In Acts 5 there is the account of the apostles on trial in front of the Sanhedrin. Famille stands up and shares his account of what is going to happen. He explains either these men are preaching a gospel of men, and it will disappear as they had seen before, or they are preaching a gospel from God. He says “but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God (Acts 5:39)”.

    PLong I like how you stated that “Something as minor as the Roman Empire cannot possibly hope to hinder the Gospel!”. When the united states realizes this just as Paul and Gamliel did, who knows where the a gospel will spread to. If God is on our side helping move His plan along, who is going to stop His plan?

  17. I think that we often attribute bad occurrences in our life to the devil or to something working against God’s will. When in reality we are not viewing what has occurred correctly. We view things that go against our perceived idea of God’s plan as bad. We forget that we do not know God’s plan and that it is often different from our own. One example of that I have heard this happen before is when an event is cancelled for weather that would have reached many that are physically or spiritually in need. We give the Devil more power than he has. Paul was in jail for a reason and recognizing that created many more opportunities than Paul could have created by avoiding jail. God’s plan was better than Paul’s was. When we recognize this as well, we can “become a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power.” Ephesians 3: 7.

  18. I think that the idea presented in this passage and this blog post that it is not the gospel in prison, but Paul shows us a key truth. One that we also see when we consider that Jesus is the gospel, or in other words he is the fulfilmment of the law and provider of atonement which is very good news for disgusting sinners like myself. The point I wish to make is that Jesus never promised that we would live lives of better quality when following him. Some men nowadays do prison ministries. Some, as free men and others as prisoners themselves. Jesus was even arrested. This same Jesus who taught that we are to abondon material possessions and wealth if necessary in order to follow him. This is not the idea of improved standards of living that so many prosperity gospel teachers preach. We are to consider ourselves as slaves to Christ, not as cowards who accept Christ because we think it will make life better for us and through him will will have victory over everybody and every situation (prison).

  19. When I first started reading this post, I was a little confused on what was being asked or looked at. After reading some more, what came into my mind was the passage about being a light in a dark place. “You, LORD, are my lamp; the LORD turns my darkness into light” (2 Samuel 22:29). GOd may have had Paul in Rome and under the authority of the Roman Empire, but like Paul mentioned, God’s light will shine through. The tough thing about this is that there are very few people that have that kind of ambition for Christ. Most people would have fleeded Rome as soon as they could. I wish that I had the kind of determination that Paul had in every situation that he was put in, in all of his missioanry journey’s.

  20. It is very interesting reading this passage with the knowledge that Paul was in house arrest while writing it. For Paul to be able to have this full understanding of the ‘mystery’ and to be able to produce forth this quote, “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known…” (Eph. 3:10), while not in an ideal situation is unbelievable. I know that when I am in the “valleys” of life it is hard for me to have encouraging words like this. But it is obvious that it is by the power of the Holy Spirit that Paul can make a claim like this. It seems that we, as the Church in a society that is naturally anti-christian, need to rely more upon the power and leading of the Holy Spirit so that we can be a part of bringing the Gospel of Jesus Christ into the darkness.

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