Brief Notes on Ephesians and the Church at Thessalonica: Ephesians 3

Ephesians 3  •  9 min. read  •  grade level: 6
We will now read from the opening of Ephesians 3:1010To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, (Ephesians 3:10) to Ephesians 4:1616From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love. (Ephesians 4:16). When we meditate on such a scripture as the Epistle to the Ephesians, we ought to take care that knowledge be not overvalued; that we do not give it a disproportionate place. When Nicodemus came to the Lord to inquire into heavenly secrets, He turned him back from being a mere inquirer as to heavenly objects, to begin with himself. So Paul refused to bring out the mystery to the Corinthians because of their low moral standing. So we ought to approach Ephesian truth rather cautiously, looking at our own moral condition. The Lord’s dealing with Nicodemus was morally of one character with Paul’s dealing with the Corinthians. So there is a moral title to breathe Ephesian atmosphere, or else we might get giddy on such heights. We must tread softly, not timidly as if they were not our own. These deepest secrets of the bosom belong to us; but the vessel is to be fitted morally to receive them.
Now we were distinguishing in the first chapter between the heavenly calling and the calling of the church; and in the second chapter we were looking at our death and life condition, and our alienated and near condition. In entering on the third chapter we resume the mystery. Did you ever see a moral beauty in this chapter being a parenthesis! It has struck me a good deal, the mystery being a parenthesis, that it should be here unfolded in a parenthetic chapter.
Here we get the church more largely opened out to us. Paul was the depositary of this mystery, and he got it by revelation. You will say he got everything by revelation and so he did, as he tells us in Galatians. Where does Paul date his apostleship? From Christ in the flesh? No; from Christ in glory. Where the other apostles? From Christ in the flesh — the Lord walking down here. But Paul never knew Christ in the flesh. So specific was his calling, and so specific the truth committed to him. By revelation, then, the mystery was made known to him.
Now, why does he say, "in few words"? Why, if he had spent chapters on it, it would have been but few words. If all that the Lord had done had been written, the world itself would not contain the books that should be written, John tells us in a note of admiration. Just so; this thing was so magnificent that to spend chapters on it would have been but few words. You and I want to find these notes of admiration in ourselves. They are very suited to us. "He made known unto me the mystery...which in other ages was not made known...that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs," not with the Jews merely, but with Christ. The body will have Jews in it; but still it is characteristically Gentile. So he loses sight of the Jews, and tells the Gentiles that they are fellow-heirs with Christ.
Here we have a new kind of inheritance — to be of the same body, and fellow-heirs with the Son of His love; not Gentiles grafted on a body of Jews. "Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints." This is characteristic. The Jews were taken up because they were the least of all nations. You were taken up because you were a poor uncircumcised distant Gentile, with no hope or God; and Paul was taken up because he was less than the least of all saints. He takes the beggar from the dung-hill. That is the way of God.
Now, what was the operation of the mystery? "To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God." This reminds us of Colossians 1:2525Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God; (Colossians 1:25), Paul’s ministry came "to fulfill [or fill out] the Word of God." You will say, Will you put it above the ministry of Christ? Indeed I do, dispensationally. The ways of God shine brighter and brighter unto the perfect day. What light we stand in! We are in the light as God is in the light. The multiform, variegated wisdom of God is now told out in all its forms of beauty. That which I now get is high calling into fellow-heirship; one body with the Lord of glory. I have reached the very head itself, and sit down in sight of the coronation of Christ and His elect. So I have completed it; I have reached the manifold wisdom of God. Then he comes down a little, "In Whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of Him." How He loves to put that foundation under our feet! If we are in the light where God dwells, we are in the citadel of strength which God has erected. It would not do to be in the light if we were not surrounded by the citadel.
The apostle now becomes a suppliant, as he did before in chapter 1. Having again rehearsed the mystery, he becomes in verse 14 a man of prayer for us. In Ephesians 1 he prays to the God of our Lord Jesus; and he prays that you may know the glory that awaits you, and the strength that is conducting you there; and he prays to the God of our Lord Jesus.
Here his prayer is that you may know the love that has destined you there; and he prays to the Father of our Lord Jesus. His heart instinctively turns itself to the Father’s bosom, which is the source of all our eternal blessedness: "Out of thy heart thou didst it," as David says. And does not your heart instinctively dictate this distinction, as you find yourself in prayer with God in glory, the Father in love, and Christ in salvation. When I think of glory and strength I am in company with the God of the Lord Jesus. When I think of love, I am in company with the Father of the Lord Jesus. These are evidences in the book that address themselves to the conscience. Scripture is a great self-evidencing body of light. Then he makes his prayer. One little word we must pause on: "Of whom the whole family," and so forth. Critics say a better translation is, "every family," and I accept it from the whole context.
I believe there are to be households in heaven as well as on earth. I believe when I take an intelligent view of the coming millennial heavens I see various families, as well as on the millennial earth. I see principalities, thrones, dominions; and I see the church as the body of Christ carried and seated above all. There may be, as was quoted before, "the noble army of martyrs," "the goodly fellowship of the prophets." There may be a patriarchal household, and a prophetic household in the world to come; but the church of the living God, in company with her Head, will be there above all.
It is a fine thing to read astronomy and geography after this manner.
There will be a heaven, by-and-by, studded with the sons of God — with morning stars! and there will be no jealousies or envyings among them.
We want largeness of thought; and largeness of thought need not take us out of accuracy of thought.
Having closed this parenthetic chapter, and its parenthetic purpose, we are entering the fourth chapter. He resumes what he was saying in Ephesians 3:11For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, (Ephesians 3:1), "I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord." That again is characteristic, that the church should have her high calling told out from a prison in Rome. If we walked a natural path and died a natural death, we should go from prisons and stakes to Christ in glory. The saint should be an unresisting witness against the world. The world thinks separation from it an insult; and it will not be insulted without revenge. So Paul unfolds the mystery from the gloomy dungeons of Rome. The church is a martyred thing on the earth.
Now he tells us to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. We should be cherishing that temper of soul that makes us in honor esteem one another. What a beautiful casket in which to deposit such a treasure! "All lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering." In the moral history of Christendom pride has broken that casket. Then he shows what the unity of the Spirit is, which we cannot destroy. We may break the casket, and expose the treasure, but we cannot break it. Do we come from north, south, east, and west, Jews and Gentiles? When we sit down together, it is in one Lord, one faith, one baptism.
We must pause a little on the verses that follow. Suppose I say, “We must look back to Genesis 3.” You may answer, “These are very distant scriptures, both locally and in the material.” But there is a beautiful connection between them. In Genesis 3 we see the victory of the serpent and the ruin of man. In Ephesians 4 we see the conquest of Christ and the redemption of man. It is the undoing of the mischief of Genesis 3. Satan made man a drudge on the earth and a captive to his lusts. The Lord comes to make the devil and his hosts His captives. There is a magnificent moral opposition in this. And what has He done with the old captive? He puts him in a more wonderful place than that out of which Satan took him. When He comes to make the hosts of hell His captives, He will let those hosts of hell learn what He can do with him that was once hell’s captive. He has made us independent of everything. We are not only made proof against the deceiver, but we grow up by resources in ourselves. The church grows up with energies deposited in herself. He makes captivity captive, on the one hand, and on the other hand shows what He is about to do with that poor thing that the serpent once ruined. The story is reversed since Genesis 3. We get the captivity of man, and the glorification of man. There the doctrinal part ends.
Now, how shall our souls deal with it? Shall we be prepared for such magnificent disclosures of God’s mind? Are they too weighty for us? I have often felt it so. Intercourse with men on the footstool is so pleasant; but that arises from a quantity of the human mixing with that which should be unmixed. So he prays that we might be strengthened with might by the Spirit in the inner man. The human mind is not able to measure these things. If my heart were opened to the sense of what the Lord Jesus is, I should say, "Nearer, my Lord, to Thee; nearer to Thee!”
The footstool may be very pleasant, but, "nearer to Thee!" That Christ may dwell in my heart, and not the scene around me; and that I may know His love, which passeth knowledge.