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Sunday, June 22, 2014

God’s Love: Exceedingly Abundant Beyond Ephesians 3

Ephesians 3
Let us do a quick review. In Ephesians 1, we found that Paul addressed his letter to the Ephesian Christians, Gentile believers, and to “faithful followers.” This letter is meant for every Christian. Paul told us that God loved each of us before He created the world. He made a plan for us to return to Him since before the creation of the world. Ephesians 2 tells us through Christ, God made His children, every Christian, into one body where Jesus Christ is the head. Jesus Christ made this possible by fulfilling the Law and its ordinances. Because of that, He removed the barrier or wall between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. Now in Christ, we are under one covenant, the Messianic covenant. Hence, we are established together as part of the foundation of Christ’s church with the saints who went before us and with Jesus Christ as the chief cornerstone. Being under a new covenant and in one body together whether Jew or Gentile is the great new idea in Ephesians 2 that Paul taught. None of this, though, is about us. God is the focus. He created us. He fulfilled His covenant through Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. He calls us to return to Him. He grows us into His temple by building us together. We do nothing toward making the Messianic covenant, nor did we do anything to earn such loving-kindness from God.

            In Ephesians 3, Paul taught about the mystery that God revealed through Christ, that Gentiles are fellow heirs of the promise in Christ Jesus (vs. 6). Paul told them and us that God revealed His mystery, which was unknown in other generations, to His apostles and prophets in the Spirit. God’s plan from the beginning was to bring everyone back into relationship with Himself. From the Old Testament, we find that God chose a group of people, the Israelites, to be His chosen people. You can find this in Jeremiah 24:7, 31:33, and 32:38 and Ezekiel 11:20, 34:30, and 36:28. In the fulfillment of His covenant with the Israelites through the offering of His Son, Jesus Christ, as the sin sacrifice, God created a new covenant and revealed His mystery - He calls all believers His children.

            Let us go back to understand better. At the beginning of this chapter, Paul explained that he yielded himself as a captive/bond servant of Christ Jesus for the sake of the Gentiles. Jesus’ call of Paul on the Damascus road revealed to Paul that Jesus sent him to proclaim the Gospel to the Gentiles. Paul said he received God’s grace to be a steward for and to the Gentiles. God disclosed this revelation to him and told him His mystery that God included Gentiles as those who are called to return to Him, not just Jews.

Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members belonging to the body of Christ (Ephesians 3:4, Romans 11:25, and Colossians 1:26-27). God did not reveal this mystery before, but revealed it to the His apostles and prophets in the Spirit. As fellow heirs, Gentiles have right to the inheritance with other believers in Christ. Because they are fellow members of the body of Christ and fellow partakers, they share in the promise of Christ Jesus through the Gospel, salvation – an eternal relationship with God and eternal life. As Christians of Gentile background, we are given the grace of God to become fellow heirs, partakers, and members of Christ’s body with other believers, Jewish and Gentile (vs. 5-6).

Paul said God made him a “minister (one who executes the commands of God) according to the gift of God’s grace” (vs. 7). He is a minister for God because God chose him to receive His grace, not because of his (Paul’s) worthiness. Paul was a minister for God by God’s power working within him. He acknowledged God gifted him and empowered him to be His minister/servant. Paul felt his duty keenly. He said, “To me, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery, which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things” (vs. 8-9). God gave Paul His grace to proclaim the good news of God’s salvation to the Gentiles. Paul said he was to preach about God’s unfathomable riches. These riches have an unknowable beginning and end, so they cannot be fully comprehended (vs.18 – 19). The riches, according to Paul in others of his letters are kindness, tolerance, patience (Romans 2:4), forgiveness of sins (Ephesians 1:7), and strength of power through His Spirit (Ephesians 3:16). Since we are dealing with Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we will narrow God’s riches to forgiveness of sins and power through the Spirit. Paul said, too, he was to make known what is the dispensing of the mystery (how God will administer His salvation to Gentile and Jew). God did not reveal this mystery until He called Paul to take the Gospel to the Gentiles. God made Paul a steward/dispenser/minister of this Gospel. The Greek word oikonomia is what is translated as administer or dispense. God called Paul to do this, dispense of/proclaim God’s grace, which God hid in Himself. Remember, God chose each of us to be in a relationship with Him before He created us (Ephesians 1:4), before the Abrahamic covenant. Hence, He chose all people to be in relationship with Him before He formed the world. The Messianic covenant returned us to that status.

God calls every person to return to Him through Jesus Christ, not just Jews. By revealing His mystery then, God revealed His manifold (many and varied) wisdom to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places (vs. 10). Ephesians 6:12 calls these the world forces of darkness and spiritual forces of wickedness. Colossians 2:15 says God will disarm rulers and authorities and will have the head rule over every dark force. Paul said God’s wisdom is greater than anything one can think or imagine. He had this mystery planned from before the foundation of the world. God’s wisdom will disarm all the dark rulers and authorities and He will rule over them. This was according to the eternal purposes, the purpose of the ages, which God formed and carried out in Christ as Lord. We can have fearless confidence, cheerful courage, and confident access through faith in Him (vs. 12). Remember the definition of faith in Hebrews 11:1 is “faith is the conviction of things hoped for and the assurance of thins not seen.” We can approach the throne of God because of His forgiveness of our sins through Jesus Christ and our giving Him control of our life as Lord. Paul said this in Ephesians 2:18, “For through Him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. We know He will accept us and be with us.”

Paul did not stop with telling the Gentiles of their acceptance into the family of God through Jesus Christ, God’s mystery. Paul prayed five things for them from God’s riches, His abundance. He prayed they would not lose heart, faint, at the tribulations he endured for their glory (vs. 13). This glory came because of his and God’s opinion of them - they are loved by God. Paul prayed they would be strengthened with power through the Spirit in the inner man, the soul and conscience. This he prayed so that Christ would inhabit and govern their hearts and souls through faith (vs. 16-17). Paul prayed they would be rooted (fixed and established) and grounded with a firm foundation in love so they could have the full ability to comprehend (learn, understand, and take hold of) along with the saints who went before them what is the breadth, length, height, and depth of God’s love for them. Job spoke of this unfathomable and immeasurable-ness of God’s love in Job 11:7-9. He said, “Can you discover the depths of God? Can you discover the limits of the Almighty? They are as high as the heavens, what can you do? Deeper than Sheol, what can you know? It’s measure is longer than the earth and broader than the sea.” You cannot know even the depths of Sheol or the heights of heaven, which God created, so how can you fully comprehend God and His love? Paul said in Ephesians 3:19, the love of Christ surpasses knowledge. The love of Christ is exceeding knowledge. The final prayer request of Paul’s for the faithful followers is that they “may be filled up to all fullness of God” (vs. 19). Our English word fullness translates from the Greek word pleroma. Pleroma is the abundance or being fully filled with the presence, power, agency, and riches of God and Christ. Paul prayed the believers would not lose heart, would be strengthened with God’s power in their soul, would be able to comprehend the depths of God’s love, would know the love of Christ, and would be completely filled with the presence of God and His abundance.

To finish this section of his letter to the Ephesians and other faithful followers, Paul offered a benediction of praise to the Father and Son in verses 21 and 22. He said, “Now to Him, the One who is able to do far more than we can ask or think, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.” Paul returned to his words in chapter 1 when he said “to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think.” He spoke of the exceeding abundantly in chapter 1. In chapter 3 Paul added the word “beyond,” which comes from the Greek word huperekeina. Huperekeina means super, beyond what we can think. This word used in one other place in the New Testament, in 2 Corinthians 10:16. The ability to do this beyond our imaginings is according to the power that is working within us, God’s power. The word “power” in Greek is dunamis, from which we derive our word dynamite. “Works” is the Greek word energeo and means operates. Energeo is from where we derive our word “erg.” So, this part of the verse can read “according to the dynamo that is erg (working) within us.” This dynamo does not derive from ourselves, but from the exceeding abundant fullness of God and Christ within our souls. The glory Paul gave here was to God. He stated this in the rest of the chapter, “To Him is the glory (magnificence, excellence, dignity, and grace) in the church (the assembly of believers) and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.”

God is the one who receives the glory, we are not. He is the one with the unfathomable and immeasurable love. God is the one who chose us and created us from the beginning. He is the one who provided the perfect sacrifice for our sins. God is the one who calls us to return to Him. He is the one who fills us completely to an exceeding overabundance with His power through His Holy Spirit. God chose to love each of us, Jew and Gentile, and calls each believer to be in His household as fellow heirs and partakers of His promise. We can do nothing to earn His love and we could do nothing to offer the sufficient sacrifice that fulfilled the Mosaic covenant. We are the created and the recipient of God’s love. We are the receiver and God is the initiator and perfector. Notice in verses 18b-21, the verb is present tense when referring to God. These verses tell us there is no limit to God’s love. God is always present and active. In verses 16-18b, Paul spoke to the followers as recipients when he used the word “may.” The Gospel is not about us, but about God, His unfathomable love, His sacrifice, His calling to us, and His glory.

God still calls to His creation today. He calls them to return to His love. God provided the perfect sacrifice with the death of His Son, Jesus Christ. He fulfilled the covenant humankind could not fulfill because of their limited ability and power.

God will keep calling for you to return to His love. His whole purpose for creating you was to be in a love relationship with you.

Will you trust Him and return to Him today?