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3. Prayer for the Ephesians
1For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus in behalf of you Gentiles,-- 2if so be that ye have heard of the dispensation of that grace of God which was given me to you-ward; 3how that by revelation was made known unto me the mystery, as I wrote before in few words, 4whereby, when ye read, ye can perceive my understanding in the mystery of Christ; 5which in other generation was not made known unto the sons of men, as it hath now been revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; 6to wit, that the Gentiles are fellow-heirs, and fellow-members of the body, and fellow-partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, 7whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of that grace of God which was given me according to the working of his power. 8Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, was this grace given, to preach unto the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; 9and to make all men see what is the dispensation of the mystery which for ages hath been hid in God who created all things; 10to the intent that now unto the principalities and the powers in the heavenly places might be made known through the church the manifold wisdom of God, 11according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord: 12in whom we have boldness and access in confidence through our faith in him. 13Wherefore I ask that ye may not faint at my tribulations for you, which are your glory. 14For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father, 15from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, that ye may be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inward man; 17that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; to the end that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, 18may be strong to apprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, that ye may be filled unto all the fulness of God. 20Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, 21unto him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus unto all generations for ever and ever. Amen.
1. For this cause. Paul’s imprisonment, which ought to have been held as a confirmation of his apostleship, was undoubtedly presented by his adversaries in an opposite light. He therefore points out to the Ephesians that his chains served to prove and to declare his calling; and that the only reason why he had been imprisoned was, that he had preached the gospel to the Gentiles. His unshaken firmness was no small additional proof that he had discharged his office in a proper manner.
The prisoner of Jesus Christ. 131131 “Know that for no other reason am I, Paul, loaded with these chains. It was for no evil action, but for the love which I bear to the Lord Jesus Christ.” — Erasmus. To strengthen his authority still more, he speaks in lofty terms of his prison. In the presence of the world and of wicked men, this might have appeared to be foolish boasting; but, in addressing godly persons, it was a dignified and faithful manner. The glory of Christ not only overcomes the ignominy of the chains, but converts what was in itself a reproach into the highest honor. If he had merely said, “I am a prisoner,” this would not have conveyed the idea of his being an ambassador. Imprisonment alone has no claim to this honor, being usually the mark of wickedness and crime. But the crowns and sceptres of kings, to say nothing of the imposing splendor of an ambassador, are less honorable than the chains of a prisoner of Jesus Christ. Men might think otherwise, but it is our duty to judge of the reasons. So highly ought the name of Christ to be revered by us, that what men consider to be the greatest reproach, ought to be viewed by us as the greatest honour.
For you Gentiles. Another circumstance greatly fitted to interest the Ephesians was, that the persecutions of Paul were endured for the Gentiles, — that his troubles and dangers were on their account.
2. If ye have heard. There is reason to believe, that, while Paul was at Ephesus, he had said nothing on these subjects, no necessity for doing so having arisen; for no controversy had taken place among them about the calling of the Gentiles. If he had made any mention of them in his discourses, he would have reminded the Ephesians of his former statements, instead of referring generally, as he now does, to common report and to his own Epistle. He did not, of his own accord, raise unnecessary disputes. It was only when the wickedness of his adversaries made it necessary, that he reluctantly undertook the defense of his ministry. Dispensation (οικονομια) means here a divine order or command, or, as it is generally expressed, a commission
3. That by revelation. Some might imagine, that, in attempting to discharge the office of an apostle, he had acted rashly, and was now paying the penalty of his rashness. It was this that made him so earnest in pleading the Divine authority for all his transactions. The present instance, on account of its novelty, had few supporters; and therefore he calls it a mystery. By this name he endeavors to remove the prejudice which the general displeasure at the event was fitted to excite. His own personal interest in the matter was less regarded than that of the Ephesians, who were deeply concerned in the information, that, through the settled purpose of God, they had been called by Paul’s ministry. Lest what is little known should forthwith become the object of suspicion, the word mystery places it in opposition to the perverse judgments and opinions which were then prevalent in the world.
By revelation he made known to me the mystery. Paul draws the line of distinction between himself and those fanatics, who ascribe to God and to the Holy Spirit their own idle dreams. The false apostles boast of revelations, but it is a false boast. Paul was persuaded that his revelation was true, could prove it to others, and speaks of it as a fact of which no doubt could be entertained.
As I wrote a little before. This refers either to a rapid glance at the same subject in the second chapter, or — which appears to be the general opinion — to another Epistle. If the former exposition be adopted, it will be proper to translate, as I wrote before in few words; for the subject had received nothing more than a passing notice; but the latter being, as I have said, the prevailing opinion, I prefer translating, as I wrote a little before. The phrase, (ἐν ὀλίγῳ,) which Erasmus has translated in a few words, appears rather to refer to time. On this supposition there would be an implied comparison between the present and the former writings. But nothing would be more unlike the fact, than to contrast them on the score of brevity; for a more concise mode of expression than this passing glance can hardly be imagined. The phrase, a little before, seems purposely to be used as an appeal to their remembrance of a recent occurrence, though I do not insist on this point. There is more difficulty in the next verse.
4. By attending to which, ye may understand, πρὸς ὃ δύνασθε ἀναγινώσκοντες νοὢσαι. Erasmus renders it, “from which things, when ye read, ye may understand.” But to translate ἀναγινώσκειν τι as signifying to read is, I think, at variance with Greek syntax. I leave it as a subject of consideration, whether it does not rather signify to attend. The participle would then be connected with the preposition πρὸς, in the commencement of the verse, and the clause would run thus, to which when ye attend, ye may understand If, however, by viewing the verb ἀναγινώσκοντες, as disjoined from the preposition, you make it signify reading, the meaning will still be, “by reading you may understand according to what I have written;” taking the phrase πρὸς ὃ, to which, as equivalent to καθ ᾿ ὃ, according to which; but I suggest this merely as a doubtful conjecture.
If we adopt the view which is almost universally approved, that the apostle had formerly written to the Ephesians, this is not the only Epistle which we have lost. And yet there is no room for the sneers of the ungodly, as if the Scriptures had been mutilated, or in any part had become imperfect. If we duly consider Paul’s earnestness, — his watchfulness and care, — his zeal and fervor, — his kindness and readiness in assisting brethren, — we shall be led to regard it as highly probable that he would write many epistles, both of a public and private nature, to various places. Those which the Lord judged to be necessary for his church have been selected by his providence for everlasting remembrance. Let us rest assured, that what is left is enough for us, and that the smallness of the remaining number is not the result of accident; but that the body of Scripture, which is in our possession, has been adjusted by the wonderful counsel of God.
My knowledge. The frequent mention of this point shews the necessity that the calling of ministers should be firmly believed both by themselves and by their people. But Paul looks more to others than to himself. He had everywhere indeed given great offense by preaching the gospel indiscriminately to Jews and Gentiles, but his solicitude was not chiefly on his own account. There were not a few who, overwhelmed by the slanders of wicked men, began to doubt of his apostleship, and whose faith was consequently shaken. It was this that induced him so frequently to remind the Ephesians that he knew the will and command of God who called him to the office. — In the mystery of Christ,
5. Which in other ages was not made known. He had simply called it a mystery, but now calls it a mystery of Christ, because it was necessary that it should remain hidden, until it was revealed by his coming; just as the appellation of “prophecies of Christ” may be given to those which relate to his kingdom. We must first explain the word mystery, and then inquire why it is said to have remained unknown in all ages. The mystery was,
“that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel.”
When this name is given to the gospel, it has other meanings, which do not apply to the present passage. The calling of the Gentiles, then, was a “mystery of Christ;” that is, it was to be fulfilled under the reign of Christ.
But why does he affirm that it was not known, when it had been the subject of so many predictions? The prophets everywhere declare, that people shall come from every nation in the world, to worship God; that an altar shall be erected both in Assyria and in Egypt, and that all alike shall speak the language of Canaan. (Isaiah 19:18.) It is intimated by these words, that the worship of the true God, and the same profession of faith, will be everywhere diffused. Of the Messiah it is predicted, that he shall have dominion from east to west, and that all nations shall serve him. (Psalm 72:8,11.) We see also, that many passages to this purpose are quoted by the apostles, not only from the later prophets, but from Moses. How could that be hidden which had been proclaimed by so many heralds? Why are all without exception pronounced to have been in ignorance? Shall we say, that the prophets spake what they did not understand, and uttered sounds without meaning?
I answer, the words of Paul must not be understood to mean that there had been no knowledge at all on these subjects. There had always been some of the Jewish nation who acknowledged that, at the advent of the Messiah, the grace of God would be proclaimed throughout the whole world, and who looked forward to the renovation of the human race. The prophets themselves, though they spoke with the certainty of revelation, left the time and manner undetermined. They knew that some communication of the grace of God would be made to the Gentiles, but at what time, in what manner, and by what means it should be accomplished, they had no information whatever. This ignorance was exemplified in a remarkable way by the apostles. They had not only been instructed by the predictions of the prophets, but had heard the distinct statement of their Master, (John 10:16,)
“Other sheep I have which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice: and there shall be one fold and one shepherd;”
and yet the novelty of the subject prevented them from understanding it fully. Nay, after they had received the injunction,
“Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature,” (Mark 16:15,)
“Ye shall be witnesses to me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and to the uttermost part of the earth,” (Acts 1:8,)
they dreaded and recoiled from the calling of the Gentiles as a proposal absolutely monstrous, because the manner of its accomplishment was still unknown. Before the actual event arrived, they had dark and confused apprehensions of our Savior’s words; for ceremonies were
“a vail over their face, that they could not steadfastly look to the end of that which is abolished.” (2 Corinthians 3:13.)
With unquestionable propriety, therefore, does Paul call this a mystery, and say, that it had been hidden; for the repeal of the ceremonial law, which admitted them within the vail, was not understood.
As it is now revealed. To lay claim to information which none of the patriarchs, prophets, or holy kings, had possessed, might wear the aspect of arrogance. To guard against this imputation, Paul reminds them, first, that in this respect he was not alone, but shared the revelation with the most eminent teachers of the church; and, secondly, that it was the gift of the Holy Spirit, who has a right to bestow it on whom he pleases; for there is no other limit of our knowledge but that which he assigns to us.
These few words, as it is now revealed, throw additional light on the admission of the Gentiles to be the people of God. It is on the condition that they shall be placed on a level with the Jews, and form one body. That the novelty might give no offense, he states that this must be accomplished by the gospel. (Ephesians 3:6.) Now, the gospel was itself a novelty; for it had never till now been heard of, and yet was acknowledged by all the godly to have come from heaven. Where, then, was the wonder, if, in renewing the world, God should follow an unwonted method?