Reading a letter is a very personal thing. Letters are not legal briefs, or novels, they are the intimate expression of someone’s heart. I love that many books in the Bible were originally letters written…sometimes to a group, sometimes to an individual. Always they are flavored by the personality of the writer.
In the letter Paul wrote to the Ephesians, at the division labeled Chapter 3, I see Paul’s personality peeking out in an endearing way. Maybe it is because I have been sidetracked while teaching, but I love that Paul takes a detour in this letter. He is thinking of the doctrine he has already expounded, and he is heading towards a beautiful prayer…but he pauses for a lengthy parenthetical “by the way, let me tell you this”
He writes, “For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles (nations)”…and then we must read all the way down to verse 14 for him to pick up his train of thought again with, “For this reason I kneel before the Father.”
What caused the distraction?
It comes when he reintroduces himself, “the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles.”
Most Bible scholars agree that this letter is one of Paul’s prison letters, but Paul does not think of himself as one bound, to Rome. Rather, he is one bound to Christ Jesus. There are no earthly hindrances for him…only God’s mighty provisions. You and I can be bound by many things. Not all prisons have bars or chains. But if I bind myself to the Lord, other chains can be broken, nullified, or overcome. Paul had every right to focus on his incarceration to Rome, but he made a choice to consider his physical chains as nothing compared to the links binding him to the Lord. He tells us one of the reasons that he is able to rejoice in his situations is “you Gentiles”, the Greek word is often translated “nations”. YOU the nations. That is what the entire parenthesis is about. And that is something very interesting to me because…I am from one of those nations! And chances are that you are a Gentile also. When he started thinking about being in captivity to us, he paused in his march toward a mighty prayer, and wrote about us.
With his body in chains, Paul remains a man on a mission with his pen continuing the commission he received from God. God entrusted the management of this grace, the administration of a mystery, to Paul, but it was a grace that was directed towards us. His mission included the uncovering of a heavenly mystery, the mystery of the church. This mystery wasn’t revealed singularly to Paul, that would start the church with Paul instead of with Pentecost. In 3.5 Paul writes that the mystery was uncovered to apostles and prophets…plural. What Paul did receive was a commission to make a particular truth known to the nations…a commission to step outside the comfort zone of Israel…to bring good news. Paul became a servant to this gospel for us.
The implications are disturbing. Truth was already revealed…but Paul was commissioned to spread it. And he considered himself not only a servant of the Truth, but of those who needed the Truth. That slays my heart. I cannot rest on God’s laurels and say, “the Truth is out there for those who are seeking it”. If I am a servant of God AND a servant of the lost, how will my days be spent? How will my weeks be shaped? How will my life story be written?
WHAT was this mystery that made earthly sufferings pale in significance?
It is not the fact that Gentiles would be saved. The Old Testament already testified that Gentiles would be saved and the Israel would be their light. The mystery was that the Gentiles AND Israel would both be saved exactly the same way…on the basis of faith…and…they would be equal.
Through the gospel by grace through faith.
This ripples through the ages to you and me. There are NO second class Christians. We are children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. If we have been baptized into Christ, we have been clothed with Christ and there is neither Jew nor Nations…neither slave nor free…neither male nor female. We are all one.
The truth that Paul was commissioned to share included not only the revelation of unity, but the responsibility of this unity. He lays on us; he lays on you and me, specific tasks. That our fellowship in grace will show the glory of Jesus, and make known the wisdom of God. That we will have freedom and confidence in our faith. That we would not be discouraged in difficulties.
“Yes”, my mind says.
“The church should be like that. The church should accomplish those tasks. I wish the church would do that.”
And then Paul reaches through the ages and says…
“YOU are that someone.”
“YOU were on my mind.”
Part 9 of “Echoes of Encouragement from Ephesians.” See Also: Therefore Remember