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. 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, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.
Ephesians 3:7-13 ESV
After describing to the Ephesians our blessings in Christ and how Jesus has reconciled us to both God and each other, Paul began chapter three by describing the mystery of Christ that has now been revealed to him and the other apostles. Within these verses, Paul will continue to explain the wonder and grace of this mystery that was hidden for eternity past in God and has now been made known to us in Christ.
A MINISTER OF THE GOSPEL // VERSE 7
The apostle begins this section of text with the words of this gospel, which is, of course, a direct continuation of verse 6 where he described the Gentiles’ inclusion into God’s people through the gospel of Christ. Although the apostle already described himself as being a steward of God’s grace, he now adds that he was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace. Again, Paul is linking his apostolic ministry to the grace of God. We know that this grace is two-way street. Paul was made an apostle by the grace of God, and he was made an apostle for the grace of God. That is, he was rescued and transformed personally by God’s grace, but he has also been given the powerful message of God’s grace to proclaim to others. Of this gospel of grace, Paul was a minister both by personal transformation and zealous proclamation.
Although no one alive today bears the title of Apostle as Paul did, we are all ministers, nonetheless. In the following chapter, the apostle will provide a list of gifts that Christ has given to His church, saying, “he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers” (4:11), which is a list of what most would consider to be types of ministers. Notice, however, that Paul is referring to them as gifts to be used for the purpose of equipping “the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (4:12). As an apostle, Paul clearly thought of himself as a minister, as we see here in our present text, yet in chapter four he paints the portrait from a different angle, calling those whom we see as ministers gifts of Christ for equipping all of God’s people to minister the gospel both to one another and to the world around us.
Paul further notes that his ministry of grace was given by the working of his power. We, of course, have the book of Acts which bears witness to the power of God displayed in the ministry of Paul. His conversion came by the power of God with Christ blinding him and demanding to know why Paul was persecuting Him. His ministry was then marked by power. As we read in Acts 19, “God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them” (11-12). Should it not, therefore, be easy for Paul to say that the ministry of God’s grace was given to him in power?
We, however, are not like him. We have not been called to be God’s apostle to the Gentiles. We have not been inspired by the Spirit to write portions of Scripture. We have not been imprisoned for the gospel.
We should always remember, however, that God often uses the extraordinary to call our attention to what He does in the ordinary. Contrary to popular belief in some circles, miracles were not common in any period of history. They were miracles precisely because they were supernatural, beyond the limits of how nature ordinarily works. Few conversions are as miraculous as Paul’s, yet God’s power is no less displayed through ordinary ones. As Paul reminded us in 2:1-10, each salvation is a resurrection from death to life, a journey through the middle of the Red Sea. And while our own ministries may not be marked by great signs and wonders, we must remember that the gospel is the greatest miracle of all. To share in bringing the gospel to those who have not yet believed or to remind brothers and sisters of its truths is a marvelous privilege, which Paul continues to explain in the next three verses.
BRINGING THE PLAN TO LIGHT // VERSES 8-10
The phrase though I am the very least of all the saints again reveals Paul’s understanding of the saving grace given to him. Although he held the authoritative position of apostle, Paul did not consider himself to be above his fellow believers; instead, he considered himself to be the least of all. As a former persecutor of Jesus’ church, the apostle knew the depths of own his sin all too well. God’s grace was so amazing to him precisely because he beheld the depths of how little he deserved it.
Yet again, God did not only grant him saving grace; Paul was also given the grace of preaching to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God. Notice that these two clauses are describing the same action. To preach the unsearchable riches of Christ is to bring to light for everyone the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God. Preaching Christ means disclosing the mystery of God’s will that has been revealed to us. And this is a grace.
The riches of Christ are unsearchable in the same sense that God is incomprehensible. His incomprehensibility does not mean that we can never understand or know God in any real sense; instead, it means that we will never reach a complete understanding or knowledge of Him. Likewise, the riches of Christ are not hopelessly beyond our reach; they are, however, inexhaustible. The difference between these two understandings is nothing less than embracing either futility or fervor. The unsearchability of Christ’s riches ought to fuel our exploration rather than dissuade it.
Our love for things, after all, often causes us to long for more. Whether a book, film, series, experience, or even relationship, endings are sorrowful because they are just that, endings. For example, each time I conclude either the books or films of The Lord of the Rings I find myself immediately desiring to begin again because I already begin to miss the immersion within the story. Yet all things must come to an end, including us. The most joyous relationship I have in this life is with my wife, but one day that too will come to an end when we are separated from one another by death. All the riches of this world are fleeting and temporary. They are, as Lewis said, “only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.” But Christ is the fulfillment of that longing. He Himself is a treasure without limit or end. Just as we will never fully comprehend Him, we will also never be finished searching out the riches of who He is. Knowing Him and loving Him more and more is the journey that becomes better with every step forward and one that has no end.
Perhaps our sluggish evangelism is rooted in our limited exploration of the unsearchable riches of Christ. Becoming enamored with the beauty of Christ is, in fact, better fuel for evangelism than a desire to rescue sinners from hell. Like the lovers in Song of Solomon, the deeper our love for Christ grows the more inevitable it becomes that we will both praise Him and call for others to join us in praising Him. We are not merely calling others to escape judgment; we are beckoning them to embrace life and joy and peace forevermore.
Yet the proclamation of the gospel is also the means of bringing the plan of God’s mystery to light. This mystery, as we discussed last week, is that in Christ Jews and Gentiles are united together into one new man, Jesus’ church. Although this plan was not made known to the sons of men in other generations and was hidden for ages in God, the LORD is now making it known through His servants. We have the privilege of being the messengers of God’s good news, that He is uniting all things in Christ, including us. Just as we have the grace of knowing the mystery of God’s will for all things, we also have the grace of making it known to others.
In verse 10, Paul further notes, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. At first, this verse seems simple enough. Through the church, God displays His manifold wisdom to rulers and authorities. He is using the weak to shame the strong, the foolish to rebuke those who claim to be wise. God is using His servants to overthrow kings. Makes sense, right? But then we read the final clause, in the heavenly places. These are not earthly rulers and authorities at all. They are not physical kings; indeed, they do not belong to the physical realm. The apostle is describing angelic rulers and authorities, spiritual powers.
Some disagreement exists on what kind of angelic beings Paul is referring to. Does he mean only demonic rulers and authorities, or are they the unfallen angels, or does he mean both? Some argue that Paul only means demonic forces because he again references rulers and authorities in heavenly places in 6:12, speaking pointedly about “spiritual forces of evil.” Yet I do not think that we need to limit the display of God’s manifold wisdom to the evil spirits alone. Peter calls our salvation a thing “into which angels long to look” (1 Peter 1:12), seeming to imply that our salvation is a matter of amazement and wonder to the angels. But Paul also told the Colossians that by Christ’s crucifixion “he disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (2:15). Thus, for the angels, our redemption gives a deeper vision of who God is, and for the demons, it is a pointed reminder that when they sinned, God did not spare them “but cast them into hell” (2 Peter 2:4). Thus, God uses our salvation to further reveal His glory and wisdom to the angelic beings.
THE ETERNAL PURPOSE IN CHRIST // VERSES 11-13
The manifold wisdom of God displayed to the angels through the church was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord. Although Paul has already said that God chose us before the foundation of the world, He deepens our understanding even further here by saying that this salvific purpose of God is eternal. Of course, the doxology of 1:3-14 continuously referenced God’s purpose and will in redeeming us in Christ, but even so, I tend subtly to think of God at some point in the eternal past suddenly deciding to create the world, knowing that we would fall and that He would save us. Yet if God’s saving purpose ever began, it is not, therefore, eternal. Yet Paul does say here that God’s purpose to form His church is eternal.
This, of course, deepens immeasurably the phrase from verse 9, hidden for ages in God. The mystery of God’s plan to save people from all nations was not simply lying in wait throughout the history of the Old Testament as we discussed this week; it has been hidden in God before the beginning ever began. It was always God’s plan to create us, and knowing that we would sin, it was always His plan to rescue us through the blood of His very own Son. Not only has God’s purpose of redemption never changed; it is eternal.
Yet this eternal purpose was hidden for ages in God until it became realized in Christ Jesus our Lord. He alone has made this great mystery known, and like Paul, we are merely instruments of Christ to continue the unveiling. And even as Christ has made the mystery of God’s will known to us, Christ also makes the Father Himself known to us. In Christ, Paul says, we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. We have boldness and access with confidence to what? He already told us in 2:18, “For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” Likewise, Hebrews 4:16 describes this same reality: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
In Christ, who is our high priest and our redemption, we have confident and bold access to the Father through faith in Him. This is a truth more radiant than the sun!
Unfortunately, because we live in a culture of pluralism, we take for granted that the default assumption of the world around us is that whichever God, or god-like force, is actually real just wants everyone to be as happy as can be. As Lewis claimed, “We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as grandfather in heaven—a senile benevolence who, as they say, ‘liked to see the young people enjoying themselves’, and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, ‘a good time was had by all’.” The world’s desire is that all want access to God whenever He is needed and want Him to scram whenever He is not.
This notion is deeply and holistically unbiblical. It assumes that God exists to be used by us, that He is a genie at our service. The reality, however, is that we are made for God’s purpose, not the other way around. He has formed us from the dust and given us life. Our design and functions are generation of His will and action. We exist to glorify Him, not to be glorified by Him. And given our sinful rejection of His purpose for us, we have no reason to assume a rightful access to Him. In fact, due to our sin, we have every reason to be eternally cut off from His presence. Yet through Christ’s sacrifice in our place, we do have access to the Father. This does not make God a genie to be summoned, but it does give us the right to have communion with Him. God does not respond to our every beck and call; instead, He has made us into His own children. No loving father grants their children’s every request, but they all do what is best for their children within their finite understanding. Likewise, our access to God does not guarantee that He will grant us supreme happiness in this life, but it does mean that He will do nothing for us that does not ultimately result in our good. Only those in Christ have this bold and confident access to God as our heavenly Father.
Finally, Paul again refers to his imprisonment, saying, so I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory. With such a glorious view of reality, how can Paul possibly lose heart over being imprisoned for the gospel? In Christ, he became a steward of God’s grace, proclaiming the great mystery of God’s eternal purpose to unite all things in Christ, including both Jews and Gentiles together into one, unified people of God, the church. His words to the Corinthians come to mind:
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16–18)
The apostle was given the vision of a “glory beyond all comparison,” a vision that made his present affliction seem light and momentary beside it. This is the vision of reality that Paul has been presenting to us throughout Ephesians (and will continue doing so). Without this heavenly line of sight, affliction becomes unbearable, evangelism becomes forced and riddled with guilt, and the grace of God becomes a get-out-of-hell free card. Without this vision, Jesus becomes a role model to be imitated, instead a Lord and Savior to know and love. But with this vision, everything else become rubbish in comparison to Christ. By this vision, we see that knowing Jesus is salvation and eternal life.
O brothers and sisters, take hold of the glories of God’s eternal purpose and begin mining the unsearchable riches of Christ today.
 C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory.
 C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, 31.