For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— 2 assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. 4 When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. 6 This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
7 Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. 8 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. 13 So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.—
Last week, we began a two-part sermon series in the book of Ephesians by looking at the text above. We observed that it is actually a digression from a prayer he began (in verse one) for the church at Ephesus, and which he picks up again in verse fourteen. But we we are discovering is that this digression in 3:2-13 isn’t actually a digression at all. It is really just a further explanation, maybe we could say a clarification of all that Paul had already written. He wants to be sure that we are honed in on these two important things—the unsearchable riches of Jesus, and the church.
But why did he feel the need to do that? What had popped up in his thinking to move him to pause in the middle of the praying, and clarify?
Let me show you...
For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles—
He calls himself a prisoner.
I didn’t catch the significance of that last week. Truth be told: I actually didn’t see it this week either. Tim Keller had to point it out to me. What is it in that word that causes him to pause, and explain further, and clarify? To understand, we have to look at what he says just a few sentences later…
So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory. (3:13)
So, let me restate what I think Paul is getting at. Here’s what he is sharing with these friends,
“I am a prisoner on your behalf, the whole reason I am jailed is because I wanted to announce to you the glories of Jesus. That is what has gotten me into such a mess. It is why I am suffering. I am doing this for you.
But I don’t want you to be discouraged about this. I know that this could really be getting you down, that it feels like your heart has been taken right out of you because I am in chains. But I don’t want you to get bitter. I don’t want you to get numb. I don’t want you to feel defeated, or to think in any way that all of this—this work we are a part of, this expansion of the kingdom, this growing of the church and body of Christ—that it is somehow in vain or at risk because of my chains.”
What is he doing?
Paul is recognizing that life is hard. He is recognizing that it is hard not just for bad people, but good people. He is realistic that following Jesus doesn’t always mean this life is going to be easy or get better. Sometimes it will get harder precisely because you follow Jesus (and note well: he does not say he is a prisoner of Rome, or of man, but of Christ Jesus).
Do you see? Good people will suffer huge disappointments and tragedies. Paul, and the Bible, is very realistic about the inevitability of suffering and hardness of life. And there is a recognition of our humanity, in that, of course that would cause us, at times, to lose heart. And to want to give up.
And that is why he now moves into this digression from his original thought to pray, but does not move away at all from what the content of his prayer was going to be. All that he has already written is why they can be confident despite the hardness of life and the feeling that maybe the kingdom is losing ground.
Do you remember what I said last week about anchor points? I gave you this illustration about Alex Honnold, and the movie about his solo climb of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. And we talked about how anchors are absolutely essential to the survival of rock climbers making arduous and hard and almost impossible climbs. Anchors are what hold the ropes onto the cliff face, so that the ropes hold the climbers from a fall to their death.
And I told you that Paul—while in prison, while suffering, while feeling the hardness of life himself, is also giddy over the glorious grace of God in his life that he has these two anchor points.
First was the grace that he, “the least qualified of any of the available Christians,” was given the supreme joy of knowing the “unsearchable riches of Christ” (3:8). This is the first anchor point. And if you want more on that, study chapter one in particular, and watch last week’s sermon.
But that wasn’t the only thing Paul was giddy about. For the grace of God had also given him a second anchor point to make it through the hardness of life himself, and for all followers of Jesus. Something without which we will not make it through the oftentimes arduous journey of living. Something that actually exists as one of those riches from Jesus. Something that holds within it a miracle of God’s gracious design for the world. Something that Paul still believed in, even as a prisoner—the very reality of which might cause discouragement and loss of heart.
That something is the church of Jesus Christ.
I invite you now to watch or listen to my sermon on Ephesians to hear more about the church as an anchor point for making our way through the sometimes arduous journey we call life. If you’d like some additional resources on this book, head on over to the Bible Project page for this part of the Whole Story.
May God use his Word to inspire you to help just one other person move one step closer to Jesus.