|Series Theme: Meditations in Ephesians|
Meditation No. 22
Meditation Title: Prisoner & Servant
Eph 3:1,7 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles…. I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God's grace given me through the working of his power.
We have taken two verses, one at the beginning and one at the end of this train of thought. It is a strange passage because Paul starts out in one direction and then steps out of the main train of thinking, so to speak, to explain something of his ministry. His starting point is yet another link phrase, “For this reason” referring to the outworking of the Gospel of grace and the bringing about of a community of God's people that he has just been referring to. In verse 1 he refers to himself as a “prisoner of Christ” and then in verse 7 as a servant. Now there are those who suggest by this reference to being a prisoner it means he was in prison at that time of writing. Now although that may possibly be true, he says a prisoner of Christ and not a prisoner for Christ. He is bound to Christ and to his purposes – for the sake of you Gentiles – because of the nature of his calling and it is that which follows and, we suggest, that is the explanation for his description of being a prisoner of Christ . Having used that description he suddenly feels he ought to explain it, and that is what follows in the following verses.
He refers back to his background: “Surely you have heard about the administration of God's grace that was given to me for you,” (3:2) referring, we suggest, to his calling on the way to and in Damascus (see Acts 9). He says, “I'm sure you heard about how I came to receive this administration or stewardship of this ministry that I have” i.e. how God dealt with him so that he would administer or speak out the Gospel with which he was entrusted as one of God's stewards. But here he doesn't call it the Gospel, he calls it the administration of God's grace , or the outworking of God's grace that he has been writing about in so much of this letter so far. It was given to him so that he could give it to others.
Now he further describes this administering of the Gospel in the form of God's grace, describing it as “the mystery made known to me by revelation.” (3:3a) and then adds, “as I have already written briefly.” (3:3b) which makes us think back to where he has referred to this ‘mystery' before. It was, “And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ.” (1:9). There we noted that a mystery is simply something that had previously remained hidden but which has now been revealed. Throughout the Old Testament there had been all those prophetic indicators of one who was to come, but the understanding of it had remained a mystery until the coming of Christ.
Paul has had the special privilege of being an administrator of this mystery as it has become revealed through Christ, and hence he goes on to say, “In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ.” (3:4) In other words as we have gone through this letter and marveled at the truth that we have found here, we have to acknowledge that Paul really had been given incredible understanding of this amazing truth about Christ and how it impacts our lives. Some have suggested that this letter contains some of the most sublime teaching in the New Testament epistles. Here it is as if Paul steps out of his teaching role and gets us to look down from above on the very nature of this letter as an additional means of appreciating the wonder of our salvation.
Three times in this letter so far he has referred to this ‘mystery' and he's going to use that word four more times before he finishes. In so doing he emphasizes that it is a revelation that has come from God, not something made up by man, not something as modern atheists suggest, that had evolved in human thinking. Oh no, this had remained a mystery for centuries and it was only with the coming of Christ that it was revealed and, again, it was not clever philosophical thinking, but simply the revelation of the Son of God in time space history, and then the recognition of who he was and what he has achieved. That's why Paul was able to go on to say it was that, “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.” (3:5) The coming of this Gospel was a Spirit revelation to particular men who the Spirit of God gave revelation and understanding. Once they saw it, it was there for the rest of us to see as well.
As he has indicated previously in the back part of chapter 2, “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.” (3:6) That's the mystery, that's the wonder that he has been privileged to ‘see', that Gentiles are now on the same footing as Jewish believers, all the same, all part of the same body and all partakers of the promises of God through Christ. It is because of this that he goes on to say, “I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God's grace given me through the working of his power.” (3:7) It was by God's power working in and through him, that he became a sharer of the mystery of God's will in Christ that had been previously hidden but had now been made known. Thus he was a prisoner to this incredible revelation which held his heart, and because of that he was now a servant of God and of His people, to whom he came to minister. How wonderful!