Last week, I took you on a diversion from the text of Ephesians to look at the question "why do many modern churches consider the Bible as allegorical: and do not expect the prophecies of the Bible to occur in the future?"
To most of us, the expectation that Jesus will return to the earth and that there will be a Rapture, are accepted facts. But for many people who claim to be believers, but who follow the teachings of many of the modern Protestant churches, this expectation does not exist.
As we saw last week the origin of this belief that the Scriptures are not literal had a political beginning, not a theological one. It was because the Roman leaders decided to be Christian but didn't like the idea that Jesus would be returning to take power away from the earthly rulers. The Bishop Augustine, in order to befriend the Roman rulers, adopted the theology espoused earlier by Origen, who decided that the Scriptures were allegories and not literal. This was politically correct at the time of Augustine.
Then the Reformation, although it corrected some of the errors of the earlier teachings, failed to correct the eschatology [doctrine of end times] and provided the basis for the allegorical theological and eschatological teachings we still have in liberal Protestant churches today.
Now back to Ephesians. Two weeks ago we dealt with the first couple of verses of Ephesians chapter 3. We introduced Paul's digression, the diversions from his original thought which starts in verse two and extends through verse 14. This gap is a gap in his train of thought as well as a gap in time, and we will see that it concerns what we now call the Church Age.
Now let's get back into the text of Ephesians 3. Let's reread verses 1-6.
Now on to new ground:
From verses 7 through 9, Paul is talking about his own ministry:
Let's go verse by verse.
So when you put this together with the Greek color, you see that Paul considers that he is a "servant by the dynamic energy and power of God".
Paul is getting ready to really stress that the Resurrection power of God is the greatest power that God has ever exercised on the earth -- that even more dramatic and powerful than creation itself was the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead, the victory over death. And he is going to hammer away at saying that the resurrection power of Jesus is available to you and me as believers, daily. It is a staggering assertion.
Paul says he is the least of the believers. He is using this as a literary technique to show his humility. This is not feigned humility. Paul says this in many of his letters. Paul says that he is the chief of sinners in First Timothy. In many of his letters it is clear that he is heavily burdened by the guilt from what he did against The Church prior to his conversion. That's probably why he calls himself the chief of sinners. It is interesting that as you see Paul, you see a demonstration of the fact that understanding the deep truths of God never gives a man a big head, but rather a broken and contrite heart. As you go through the Scripture it's always the case. When someone has the privilege of beholding the throne of God, their invariable response is to be crushed. One of the most graphic examples is in Isaiah Chapter 6 where Isaiah beholds the throne of God and he says "woe is me." He is really undone. You'll see that every place in the Scripture. Where someone truly comprehends God, the immediate response is to be conscious of one's own unworthiness.
Remember that Peter was the one through whom it was first made known that salvation was available to the Gentiles. But in many places in the New Testament it is clear that Paul was given the special assignment to preach the gospel among the Gentiles. Both Paul and Peter acknowledge that Paul's special assignment was to preach to the Gentiles. Paul wanted to go preach to the Jews but he recognized that his assigned mission was to the Gentiles, uniquely so.
He speaks of the unsearchable riches. Paul is going to identify, (and already has in earlier verses), that you and I are spiritual billionaires. What he is going to try to get across is the spiritual riches that you and I have, and how to appropriate them in practical terms.
Just so we don't miss it, when Paul says that he is least of all the Saints, remember what the name Paul means in Greek and Latin. Remember that Paul's name as a Jewish name was Saul, a proud Jewish name, named after King Saul, he was a member of the tribe of Benjamin just as his namesake who was the first king of Israel. But as a Greek name Paul means little. His Greek name turns out to fit his stature, he was short, and it fits his ego after his conversion on the road to Damascus.
Continuing in the text:
Some of your translations, instead of the word administration, will have the word fellowship. Some Greek manuscripts used the Greek word koinonia which means partnership or fellowship or participation. The better manuscripts have the Greek word oikonomia which means administration (of a household or estate) or an "economy". This appears to be the better Greek word and is the same word that we discussed a couple of lessons ago as the way in which God relates to man; sort of his system at the time or what we also called a dispensation. So Paul is saying that he's going to illuminate or explain the system by which God is relating to man, which is this mystery that only God has known up until now.
Now this verse is pretty weird if you realize what it saying. It may come as a surprise to some of you. To be made known to the rulers and the authorities in heavenly places. The rulers and authorities in heavenly places refers to ranks of angels. You may recall that there are many places in the Scripture, like Romans 8, as an example, that the terms "principalities and powers" are used in some translations. Or in the NAS here, rulers and authorities are used to refer to the various levels of angels. Here it is quite clear, because it says rulers and authorities in heavenly places. More precisely in the Greek, here like earlier uses, it literally says in the heavenlies.
The intent is that the Church might now made known to the angels the mystery of the will of God. This does what we talked about back in verse seven of Chapter 2 where we discussed the fact that as believers we are given insight into God's will that even the angels do not have.
Remember what we said the purpose of God's plan was? From Genesis 3 on -- from the fall of man forward -- God could see that man was going to fall; he could see all the pain and suffering that would result from that; and yet he allowed it to happen and he had his plan of redemption. Many people stand back and say "I wonder why he would allow all of this to happen". And the answer of course is verse 7 of Chapter 2 of Ephesians:
Paul says he did it because he wanted to show everyone in the future how much he loved us. But it's also interesting here to see in Chapter 3 that one of the goals is to explain it to the angels.
The manifold wisdom of God is being shown to the angels through the church. It is interesting that Peter makes similar remarks in first Peter 1:10-12:
We looked at that a few lessons ago also. Here again he paints this picture, while giving a theological sweep, he paints this picture of angels peeping over the mezzanine with great fascination because it's through God's dealing with us that the truth of his wisdom and his plan is made known even to the angels. You and I get used to the idea they God knows everything. But we sometimes incorrectly impute that capability to angels. They're learning just like we are; they're watching and they're learning the wisdom of God by how he interacts with us. That's what Paul is saying here:
So that is one of God's purposes, one of his present purposes, to reveal his manifold wisdom to the angels. We know from Luke 15 that angels rejoice at the repentance of just one sinner.
Why? Sure that's neat but there must be a lot at issue here in addition to the welfare of one sinner. The angels watch the activities of the local churches. When a church has a hassle at a deacon's meeting or there's some kind of tension that is not being dealt with or there's a failure to be sensitive to something the pastor is trying to deal with, who's watching? The rulers and the authorities in heaven. You're in a drama that's unfolding. It's exciting. In First Corinthians 4:9 it says we are a spectacle to them.
We use the term spectacle in derogatory terms and that probably fits too. We are a real spectacle, tragically.
We will again pick up with Ephesians 3:10 and finish this look at what the angels are learning by God's interaction with us and continue on from there.