The Gospel Observer

"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations...teaching them to observe all that I commanded you, and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matt. 28:19,20).
July 8, 2012


1) Ephesians 3:7-11 (Tom Edwards)
2) News & Notes


Ephesians 3:7-11
by Tom Edwards

Paul declares in Ephesians 3:7, "of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God's grace which was given to me according to the working of His power."  The "of which" that Paul was made a minister of refers back to the gospel (v. 6).  Perhaps it is verses like this that cause some people to think of the term "minister" as being reserved or used exclusively for just certain Christians.  For after all, Paul was an apostle.  He was empowered by the Holy Spirit and could work miracles.  He preached God's message.  But the word "minister," from the Greek word "diakonos," simply means "one who executes the commands of another, especially of a master...."  Thayer then also shows it denotes a "servant" or "attendant," and it is translated as "servant" in Ephesians 3:7 of some Bible versions.  Notice, too, how Paul refers to himself and Apollos: "What then is Apollos?  And what is Paul?  Servants [diakonos] through whom you believed..." (1 Cor. 3:5).  In Romans 13:4, even the civil authority is referred to as a "minister [diakonos] of God" in various translations.  Does this mean that the civil authority is a preacher of the gospel?  Of course not. But the civil authority can still function as a servant unto the Lord, even unknowingly.  Various other translations actually render this as "servant of God"; and in the context, we can see why this is so.  For the civil authority is "a minister of God to you for good.  But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing [which refers to the death penalty]; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil" (v. 4).  In speaking of the civil authority as being God's minister or servant is similar to what the Lord says about the heathen nation of Assyria, in being "the rod of My anger and the staff in whose hands is My indignation" (Isa. 10:5), whom God used -- even without their awareness -- against His ungodly people (vv. 6-7,12,15).

Paul shows that his ministry was truly because of the Lord.  For it was "according to the gift of God's grace," which was given to Paul, "according to the working of" God's "power" (Eph. 3:7).  Paul's calling and acceptance of that call came many years after his birth, but the Lord knew even when Paul was an infant -- and before -- that he would become one of the apostles (cf. Gal. 1:15,16).  This, of course, did not assure Paul of eternal security.  For he knew that he still had the responsibility to persevere in the faith in order to not fall from grace and make heaven his home (cf. 1 Cor. 9:25-27).  So that is what he did.  For instance, in his last New Testament epistle, shortly before his death, he declares, "For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing" (2 Tim. 4:6-8).  

It's interesting to realize of the great change that came over the apostles after they had seen the resurrected Christ.  Shortly prior, they had fallen into disbelief, despondency, and perhaps fear for their own lives; but after having seen the Lord, they were willing to take a courageous stand for the cause of Christ -- and even if it would result in their own deaths.  That change in them, in itself, also testifies to the reality of the Lord's resurrection and the truthfulness of His word.  But even more so is the change we see in the apostle Paul, who, prior to his conversion, had been zealously hostile toward the church in his persecution of it. He would track down Christians to have them arrested, force them to blaspheme, and consent to their deaths (Acts 26:9-11).  But what a major turn-around he made after having met the Lord on the road to Damascus.  Paul was now willing to sacrificially pour out his own life, like a type of drink offering, for the sake of the Christians, that they be built up in the faith and eventually receive heaven as their home. This is certainly one of the things that makes Paul such an interesting apostle -- his major change from being Paul the persecutor to Paul the persecuted and willing to be so because of his love for the Lord.  

Because of what Paul turned out to be, we think of him as being one of the greatest Christians who ever lived; but notice how he viewed himself, according to Ephesians 3:8: "To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ...."  Why would Paul say this about himself?  Surely no one else would view Paul in that way; but consider the following:  In 1 Corinthians 15:9, Paul declares, "For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God."  In the context, it is clear that Paul is not referring to himself as the least, based on the amount of service he rendered to God.  For look what he then acknowledges in the very next verse: "But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me" (v. 10).  That is certainly a humble attitude Paul had about his servitude.  He viewed everything he did for the Lord as being God's grace working with him.  Consider also 1 Timothy 1:12-16, in which Paul makes mention of his former life and speaks of himself as having been "the chief of sinners"; but also as an example that as the Lord was able to save him, the foremost of transgressors, the Lord is also able to save anyone!

So there is no contradiction between what Paul says in Ephesians 3:8, of being "the very least of all saints," and 2 Corinthians 11:5, where he declares, "For I consider myself not in the least inferior to the most eminent apostles."  Though many people might view these passages as a glaring discrepancy, these individuals simply fail to realize that Paul is basing his statements on two different involvements in his life.  For in saying he is the "very least of all saints," Paul is considering his former life as a persecutor of the church, a chief of sinners, a blasphemer, a murderer, as we noted in the previous verses.  The remembrance of these former sinful deeds was probably a sorrowful and shameful thing to the apostle Paul -- and that which made him feel as the "very least of all saints."  But when he says in 2 Corinthians 11:5 that "...I consider myself not in the least inferior to the most eminent apostles," he has his service to the Lord in mind.  No one could outdo Paul when it came to that.  For he was zealously devoted to Christ and traveled extensively in preaching the gospel, going great distances and risking his life for the cause of the Lord.  Truly, Paul did not shun from preaching the whole counsel of God (cf. Acts 20:26,27); and, as a result, converted many to Jesus and helped establish many congregations in various places.  In addition, Paul was clearly willing to suffer much for the gospel -- even to the extent of wearing the "brand-marks of Christ," which were the scars of lacerations from having been torturously scourged for his being a servant of the Lord.  Paul was also highly educated in Judaism and things of the world, but even more important than that was the revelation he had received from God Himself.  And, as we saw Paul saying in 1 Corinthians 15:10, in comparing himself to the other apostles, "...I labored even more than all of them...."  So these are some of the reasons why Paul could say that he was "...not in the least inferior to the most eminent apostles."  Therefore, these two passages are not a contradiction.  They are simply Paul's evaluations of himself with regard to two different things in his life: his former unworthiness as a persecutor, and now his diligent service to the Lord.  But, again, it is to God that Paul credits even his service unto the Lord.  For as we had seen, Paul testified that it was "by the grace of God I am what I am"; and by that grace, Paul also did what he did -- he "labored" for God (1 Cor. 15:10).  So Paul fully gave the Lord the credit.  This we also see in Galatians 2:20, where Paul declares, "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me."

According to Ephesians 3:8, Paul was called to preach to the Gentiles "the unfathomable riches of Christ."  The only other place the Greek word for "unfathomable" is used in the Scriptures is Romans 11:33, where Paul states, "Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!"  In speaking of the superiority of God, the great patriarch Job declares, "Who does great things, unfathomable, And wondrous works without number" (Job 9:10).  Though the "riches of Christ" is unfathomable, yet a person can know the way to those riches through the gospel; and in God's word, we begin to also realize the beauty and glory of heaven -- though what we know of it is but a very small realization, compared to all that heaven truly is.  

After saying he was to "preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ," Paul then includes, "and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things" (Eph. 3:9).  Paul shows this is what he was to "bring to light" or "make all men see," as the KJV renders it; and "the administration of the mystery," is referring to the union of Jews and Gentiles in the Lord.  So, not only would Gentiles be saved in Christ, they would also be one with the Jews, being joint-heirs, of the same body, and partakers of the same promises in Christ.  

At the end of Ephesians 3:9, some translations include the phrase "through Jesus Christ," while others do not, in pertaining to God having "created all things" through Him.  This is because the phrase is missing in the Vulgate, the Syriac, the Coptic, and in several ancient manuscripts.  But even if it is not there in this verse, we can clearly see in several other passages that Jesus was involved in the great work of Creation, such as in John 1:3: "All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being."  John 1:10: "He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him." Colossians 1:16: "For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things have been created through Him and for Him."  Hebrews 1:2: "in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world."  And Hebrews 1:10: "And, 'YOU, LORD, IN THE BEGINNING LAID THE FOUNDATION OF THE EARTH, AND THE HEAVENS ARE THE WORKS OF YOUR HANDS.'"  

Perhaps, too, the reason why the verse mentions God who created all things is to remind us of His supreme greatness and to realize that He certainly has the right to keep mysteries hidden for as long as He would choose.  But now the mystery was to be brought to light "so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places" (Eph. 3:10).  

According to this verse, who has the responsibility toward making known the wisdom of God?  The church -- so each individual member!  Corresponding to this is what the Hebrew writer says in Hebrews 5:12: "For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food." Unfortunately, these had become "dull of hearing," as the writer shows in verse 5; but they all should have been teachers by that time.  

Ephesians 3:10 also answers the question as to why God kept the "administration of the mystery" hidden for "ages."  As the verse begins, "so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church...."  Note that Paul refers to it as "manifold wisdom."  We think of "manifold" as being "varied" or "numerous" or "having numerous different parts, features, or forms."  God's wisdom, therefore, does not consist of merely one wise saying; rather, His word is filled with numerous nuggets of wisdom, various doctrines to live by, and many different promises to believe in.  All of this needs to be taught, and it is the church's responsibility to do so. 

Also in Ephesians 3:10, the church is to make known God's wisdom to "the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places."  Notice that these are not civil or earthly rulers and authorities because the verse shows they are rulers and authorities "in the heavenly places."  But who in the heavenly places would not know all of God's wisdom? Concerning the prophecies that the prophets were proclaiming by the Spirit of Christ within them, 1 Peter 1:12 shows that what was being declared was also "things into which angels long to look."  Therefore, there were things of the gospel that angels did not know.  Though we probably think of angels as being in heaven, notice Hebrews 1:14, which speaks of them as "...ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation."  Though this is not explained for us, we can note that the angels are "sent out."  In Luke 1:19, for instance, an angel said to Zacharias who was to become the father of John the Baptist, "I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news."  Gabriel had also visited Mary to inform her of the Christ child that she would conceive (Luke 1:26-38).  This is not to say, however, that angels speak to us in the same way today; but, apparently, they are very much aware of what's going on here on earth and can see the Father's will unfolding.  For the Bible says that "...there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents" (Luke 15:10).  So not even one person can come to Christ without the angels knowing about it.  In 1 Corinthians 4:9, Paul declares, "For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men."  From this passage, it is obvious that angels can behold men.  And for the sinner who comes to Jesus Christ, look at Hebrews 12:22: "But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels...."  Since angels have been sent out "for the sake of those who will inherit salvation" (Heb. 1:14),  isn't it great to know that there are "myriads" of them?  As J.W. Shepherd writes, "The angels are, therefore, represented to us as not only ministering to the church of Christ, but learning from its existence and fortune more and more of the wisdom of God.  Hence we gain a glimpse of a more than world-wide purpose in the supreme manifestation of God's mercy in Christ fulfilled towards higher orders of God's rational creatures, aiding even them in progress towards the knowledge of God in Christ Jesus, which is life eternal."  We will ever cease to marvel at God's greatness -- even throughout eternity?!

Paul then says in Ephesians 3:11, "This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord...."  The "This" is referring to the church proclaiming God's wisdom.  Therefore, this verse serves as an excellent passage to help the premillennialist see that the church is not just a "substitute" or an "afterthought" in the mind of God.  For many premillennialists believe that the Lord had originally planned to establish His kingdom, but because of the Jew's rejection of Jesus, that plan was hindered; and, therefore, God then had to set up the church instead, as a temporary substitute.  However, Ephesians 3:11 indicates that the church had been part of God's "eternal purpose."  So, it was part of His plan before the world even began.  And, in addition, the terms "church" and "kingdom" are sometimes used synonymously; so God's kingdom did come when the church was established.  Therefore, Christians whom God has put in the church (Acts 2:47) are also said to be in the kingdom (cf. Col. 1:13; Rev. 1:6,9), which will be delivered up to God when Jesus comes again (1 Cor. 15:23,24). 

Notice, too, how important Jesus is for the fulfilling of this eternal purpose -- for it would be carried out "in Him" (Eph. 3:11).  And even way back in the Patriarchal Age, God was making that known.  For to Abraham, the Lord states, "In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice" (Gen. 22:18).  Commenting on this, Paul says by the Holy Spirit, "Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, 'And to seeds,' as referring to many, but rather to one, 'And to your seed,' that is, Christ" (Gal. 3:16).  Throughout the New Testament, we see of many spiritual blessings that the Christian has for being in Christ.  But, also, all those who are baptized into Christ are also added to the church; and as we just saw, this was part of God's eternal plan.  In addition, everything that we do, including teaching the gospel, is to be done "in Christ," which implies, by His authority, according to His word.

In knowing that the Lord has an eternal purpose or eternal plan, we should better understand verses such as 2 Timothy 1:9, where Paul shows that God "...has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity...."  What was granted from all eternity was God's plan of salvation.  And all who meet the conditions of that plan will be those who will benefit from it and be blessed in Jesus. Paul also speaks of this in 2 Thessalonians 2:13-15, by showing that "...God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.  So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us."  In this we see not only of God's involvement in our salvation, but also the need for our own involvement by hearing the gospel, acquiring faith, and submitting to that gospel so that we can be sanctified (or made holy) by the Spirit and have salvation from our sins.  So how about you?  Have you met those conditions?  If not, then why not set your course to do so that you will also be able to benefit from Christ's sacrifice, having your sins forgiven, becoming a new creature in Christ Jesus (2 Cor. 5:17), and being in that right relationship with God that will help you now and lead to even greater blessings in the world to come.  It will truly change your eternal destiny!  


News & Notes

We extend our sympathies to the family and friends of Mike DuBose, a gospel preacher from Cy Fair, Texas, who passed away July 9.  He was 64 and had preached in the Houston area for about 25-30 years.  May we who are Christians be remembering his family and friends in our prayers.

Let us also be praying for Clyde Jackson who has been having some health problems.  And also for Curtis Gautreau who had a bone marrow transplant July 6 and is not feeling well.

The Steps That Lead to Eternal Salvation

1) Hear the gospel, for that is how faith comes (Rom. 10:17;  John 20:30,31).
2) Believe in the deity of Christ (John 8:24; John 3:18).
3) Repent of sins (Luke 13:5; Acts 17:30).
4) Confess faith in Christ (Rom. 10:9,10; Acts 8:36-38).
5) Be baptized in water for the remission of sins (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Rom. 6:3,4; Gal. 3:26,27; 1 Pet. 3:21).
6) Continue in the faith; for, if not, salvation can be lost (Heb. 10:36-39; Rev. 2:10; 2 Pet. 2:20-22).

Park Forest

9923 Sunny Cline Dr., Baton Rouge, LA  70817
Sunday services: 9:00 AM (Bible class); 10 AM & 6 PM (worship)
Tuesday: 7 PM (Bible class)
evangelist/editor: Tom Edwards (225) 667-4520
http://ThomasTEdwards.com/go (Gospel Observer website)
http://ThomasTEdwards.com/audioser.html (audio sermons)