Bible Commentaries
Ephesians 3

Hampton's Commentary on Selected BooksHampton's Commentary

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Verses 1-2

A Prisoner in Christ's Service

Paul begins a prayer in 3:1, but immediately digresses. He does not return to his prayer until verse 14. Because Jew and Gentile were built together on the one foundation, Paul was ready to give thanks to the Father. He identifies himself as "the prisoner of Jesus Christ" because it was in His service that he was taken captive. Further, that captivity was being used by God to advance the cause of Christ, particularly in the Gentile world ( Eph_6:20 ; Phm_1:13 ; Act_20:22-24 ; Act_21:13 ; Act_28:20 ).

The word "if" in 3:2 would be better rendered "since" or "seeing that." The Ephesians knew Paul's commission from Christ particularly pertained to the Gentiles ( Act_9:15 ; Gal_2:7-9 ). He was God's ambassador to tell of the wondrous grace available to all in Christ.

Verses 3-6

God Made Known the Mystery

Christ revealed both the plan of salvation and his plan for Paul to tell others about it ( Gal_1:11-17 ; Act_26:15-18 ). Paul says he wrote a few words before about the mystery. He may be referring to his earlier mention of the mystery in this book (1:9), or another letter we do not have. Paul's purpose in telling them about the plan of salvation, which once was covered but now had been revealed, was that they might understand the ultimate meaning of the inspired writings when they studied them (3:3-4).

God uncovered his plan part by part. The inspired men who received God's messages longed to know their full meaning. However, that was reserved for those of the Christian age ( 1Pe_1:10-12 ). The apostles and prophets of the New Testament were inspired by the Holy Spirit. They knew of God's plan to save all men, both Jew and Gentile, through Jesus Christ (3:5).

The Jews had long considered themselves God's people. Now that the mystery was made known, Paul could also tell the Gentiles who obeyed that they were God's people in Christ Jesus. In fact, this was a great part of the mystery revealed to the inspired apostles and prophets. "Fellow heirs" means the Gentiles were now considered part of God's family. Of course, the body is the church, as was observed in Eph_1:22-23 . The great promise in Christ is a new life because of his shed blood which purchased the remission of our sin (3:6; Rom_6:3-4 ; Act_2:38 ).

Verses 7-9

Paul's Mission

Paul considered his mission to the Gentiles a special favor bestowed upon him by God. This came about by the working of God's power both in saving Paul and in giving him the needed strength to carry out his work (3:7). The apostle felt unworthy of his great mission especially because he had persecuted the church ( 1Co_15:8-9 ; 1Ti_1:12-17 ). The riches of salvation in Christ are so vast they cannot be mapped out or fully explored (3:8).

Paul also wanted the Gentiles to see the gospel is truly for all men without respect to race, color or sex ( Mat_11:28-30 ; Mar_16:15 ; Act_10:34-35 ; Gal_3:28 ; Rom_1:14-16 ). Each man's share, or fellowship, of the mystery may have to do with the salvation each is offered in Christ. Or, it may refer to the partnership we all, Jew and Gentile, have in the church. God's greatness is certainly seen in his creation of all we see and know by Jesus. It was such a great God who lovingly planned for our redemption and kept that plan ready until the time was right to unveil it (3:9).

Verses 10-12

God's Wisdom As Seen in the Mystery

God's wisdom is many sided and can only be understood as he reveals it. This is true for angels as well as men. At the time of Paul's writing, God's great plan for the redemption of man had been made known to men and angels in the church (3:10). God's eternal intent was at last taken to completion in Christ Jesus the master of the church. No last minute revision is found in Paul's thinking. Instead, God's plan unfolds just as he intended before the worlds were formed (3:11).

In the margin of the A.S.V., we have "through the faith of him." Jesus faithfully followed the will of the Father when he gave up his life on the cross of Calvary ( Php_2:5-11 : Heb_10:5-10 ; Heb_9:11-14 ; Heb_9:22-28 ). His faithful sacrifice gives us boldness, which Summers says means "freedom to speak," and "access," which he says, "may also be translated 'introduction.' The Greek term expresses the idea of one's being led into the presence of another. It was used in Paul's day of one who was introduced into the presence of royalty." Jesus' sacrifice gives us freedom to speak in the very presence of God through prayer (3:12; Heb_4:14-16 ; 1Ti_2:5-6 ).

Verse 13

Thoughts On the Apostle's Bondage

Paul was willing to suffer the hardships of Roman imprisonment if the gospel could be furthered by his chains. ( Php_1:12-14 .) He did not want the Ephesian brethren to give up because of his suffering in bonds. This was especially true since more Gentiles were being given an opportunity to learn of God's great plan. Also, as the last verse would indicate, though he was chained, Paul was still free to approach God's throne (3:13).

Verses 14-15

An Introduction to Paul's Prayer

In 3:14, Paul resumes the approach to God's throne which he had begun in Eph_3:1 . The things that caused him to bow in prayer are primarily found in chapter 2. Some of those are: the grace of God toward lost men, reconciliation between Jew and Gentile, making both friends again with God and the great privileges the Gentiles now have under Christ's law.

The bending of ones' knees is a sign of reverence, or respect. One of the words for worship in the New Testament is proskuneo and suggests making obeisance, or bowing, or even to kiss the ground toward one. Others knelt in prayer to show their respect for God ( Luk_22:41 ; Act_9:40 ; Act_20:35 ; Act_21:5 ). However, such is not the only position for prayer which is mentioned in scripture ( 1Ti_2:8 ; Luk_18:13 ; Act_16:24-25 ). Paul's prayer was directed to the Father in heaven, in accord with Jesus' model ( Mat_6:9 ). The whole family of God would seem to include angels, faithful men of the past and the faithful on earth. They are sons of God (3:15).

Verses 16-17

Paul's Request

The outward man is the body everyone can see which gradually grows old. The inward man is the soul that will live eternally ( 2Co_4:16 ). All of us are made new through the washing of the new birth, or baptism, which the Holy Spirit caused to be written about in the Bible ( Tit_3:5 ). The Spirit can further strengthen us as we feed on the milk and meat of the word ( 1Pe_2:2 ; Heb_5:12-14 ). Paul prayed they would be granted the latter strength (3:16).

Hendren says the "verb 'dwelling' is intensive, meaning 'settle down.' Christ needs to settle down and take up permanent residence in our hearts." If we grow in strength because of feeding on the word, as the previous verse suggested, Christ will reside in our hearts because of the faith that comes by hearing the word of God.

Paul's prayer was also that they would become wellrooted and stabilized. Hendren suggests these participles are written so as to suggest a rooting and grounding had already taken place and needed to continue taking place. The love here must be that of God and Christ which opened the way of salvation (3:17).

Verses 18-19

The Desired Results

Further, Paul wanted them to completely understand, in all its measures, something, or some things. It may be the love spoken of in the previous verse, or the mystery spoken of earlier, or the church he is showing to be supreme in this letter. Perhaps it is all we have cited plus the many other things making up the complete revelation of God's great will. However, since love is the focus of the verse preceding and the verse following this one, this writer thinks it is love Paul wanted the Ephesians to fully know (3:18).

He really wanted his readers to come into an intimate, or personal, relationship in the arms of Christ's love. Christ's love goes beyond man's understanding because it was extended at Calvary to rebels against his Father's throne. It involved the sacrifice of the Lord's life. Paul prayed for them to also be full of the love of the Father. A Christian grows up in love, which is the one identifying characteristic Christ gave for his disciples (3:19; Joh_13:34-35 ).

Verses 20-21

Praise for God

Some may have thought Paul asked for too much in his prayer. His requests were directed to the omnipotent one. God can greatly exceed what man thinks of or would request. He accomplishes his working through the gospel and the Christ of the gospel (3:20; Rom_1:16 ; Php_4:13 ).

The Christian's purpose is to glorify God, which is done through bearing fruit ( Joh_15:8 ). To bear fruit to God's glory, we must be in Christ or in the church, which is the same thing ( Joh_15:5 ). God deserves to be glorified in every generation on the earth and will continue to deserve such when this life is over (3:21; Psa_45:17 ; Psa_72:17 ; Rev_5:13 .)

Bibliographical Information
Hampton, Gary. "Commentary on Ephesians 3". "Hampton's Commentary on Selected Books". 2014.