Epiphany

Paul the teacher to the Gentiles. 3:1-13

 
Introduction

The first part of Paul's letter to the Ephesians, 1:3-3:21, takes the form of a prayer which is interrupted by our passage for study. In this passage Paul reminds his readers that God has revealed his "mystery" to him and has given him the task of administering it, v2-6. God, in his kindness, bypassed the apostles and gave Paul, the persecutor, the task of revealing the mystery of God's grace to the Gentiles, v7-13.

 
The passage

v2. The Ephesian believers should accept by now that God has entrusted the gospel of God's grace to Paul on behalf of the Gentiles. Paul is using the word "grace" as a shorthand reference for God's gift of eternal right-standing through Christ, freely offered in the gospel, cf. Acts.20:24.

v3. Paul describes the gospel of grace as a "mystery" now revealed to him, cf.1Cor.2:1. It is a mystery in that the message of the gospel was once hidden, although now revealed.

v4. The substance of the mystery "of Christ" ("of Christ" in the sense of "revealed in the person and work of Christ") is something the Ephesians can understand because Paul has already touched on the subject in this letter.

v5. The Old Testament saints had an understanding of the mercy of God, but they had no insight into the extent of God's grace in and through the person and work of Christ. Only the apostles and New Testament prophets possess this insight.

v6. The secret truth, now revealed, concerns God's free and gracious acceptance of all who trust Christ. For Paul, the implication is worth underlining - Jew and Gentile share the promise together, Rom.8:17, Gal.3:6-29. Note that the NIV "this mystery is that ..." is not in the Greek and is misleading. The mystery is not "members together in one body", but "the unsearchable riches of Christ" (God's free grace in Christ), v8.

v7. Paul was appointed by God to minister this mystery to the Gentiles. Of this appointment Paul says it was an act of divine grace, an act of kindness.

v8. Unworthy as Paul is, God entrusted him with the gospel, the mystery, "the boundless riches of Christ."

v9. Although the mystery was once hidden, God's intention was that all would inevitably understand his action-plan.

v10. The gospel of grace achieves the reconciliation of one people under God (the church) and serves as an object lesson far beyond this world. It displays a "variegated wisdom," including that "kept hidden" wisdom of the mystery, and does so to "principalities and powers in heavenly places." These powers are probably evil, spiritual and cosmic/heavenly, cf. Eph.6:12, 1Cor.2:8.

v11. This verse explains God's sovereign intent in the process of reconciliation, achieved through Christ.

v12. Paul further explains the content of the "manifold wisdom." God's purposes are accomplished through Christ's faithfulness ("faithfulness of him" rather than "faith in him") which believers appropriate in union with him.

 

 

v13. Suffering prepares us for our reign with Christ, 2Cor.4:17, and Paul notes that the suffering of one member of the body of Christ is shared by all, cf. Col.1:24-25. Suffering and persecution ushers in eternal glory and so Paul willingly plays his part for the glory of God's people.

 
The Epiphany

The Epiphany is one of the oldest feast-days in the Christian Church. It was first celebrated in the Eastern Church to commemorate the manifestation of Christ to the World. The word "epiphany" means "manifestation" in Greek. The day celebrated the manifestation of Jesus at his birth, his baptism and his first miracle at Canna in Galilee. The focus of the celebration was on the manifestation of the Divinity of Christ. When this "high" day moved to the Western Church, it focused on the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles, as portrayed in the story of the visit of the Magi to the infant Jesus. By the fourth century, Epiphany was celebrated on January 6, and here it has stayed till today.

This passage from Ephesians is read as the Epistle for Epiphany because it focuses on a wonderful consequence of the gospel, namely that "the Gentiles are heirs with Israel, members together in one body, and sharers together in the promises in Christ Jesus," 3:6. It was Paul's honor to manifest Christ to the Gentiles through the proclamation of the gospel, in the full knowledge that they could share in the "promises in Christ Jesus". Whereas, in the past, the Gentiles were second rate citizens to the Jews, all this is now changed in and through the person and work of Christ. Gentiles now have equal standing with the Jews; a totally unheard-of thing.

The Old Testament prophets certainly spoke of the incoming of the Gentiles and of Israel as a light to the Gentiles. Yet, equal standing was something beyond their understanding. Jews and Gentiles, in Christ, now have equal access into the presence of the living God.

On this "high" day - Epiphany - we can respond to God's manifestation of his grace to us by recognizing anew the mercy of God. We, the outcasts, now fully share in "the promises in Christ." And let us reaffirm how this is so. It is not by attending the right church, nor is it by right behavior, rather it is totally a gift of God's grace appropriated through faith, and not of works lest any person should boast.

 
Discussion

How is the church an instrument of eternal reconciliation?

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