1 For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles,
The Apostle begins this section of his epistle to the Gentile Church of Ephesus with a lovely thought, “There is a cause.” There is a reason for everything. Solomon said, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven” (Eccl. 3:1).
David, as a young warrior ready to face Goliath asked, “Is there not a cause?” (1 Sam. 17:29). There is a cause for your life, and my life, and for everything that happens in our lives. There is a reason for every event in every moment of every day. Life is not a series of meaningless decisions and activities.
From a human perspective, our daily lives look very much like the back side of a carpet filled with many colorful but tangled threads. But, on the other side of the fabric, from a divine perspective, there is a detailed tapestry of life that is beautiful and understandable.
Paul never doubted that God had a plan for His life. Paul was willing to be led by the Holy Spirit so that the cause of God might be made manifest, not only to him, but to others.
In context, Paul is anxious for the Church of Ephesus to realize there was a reason for his imprisonment, his house arrest in Rome. He was a political prisoner of Rome, but He was more importantly, a prisoner of Jesus Christ.
Paul had been taken captivity by the Lord of Glory on the Road to Damascus. While he was yet threatening the Church, seeking to put in jail, without mercy, every man, woman, and young person he could find, the resurrected Christ came to Paul to speak to him, to love him, and to convert him. Is it any wonder that Paul would write to the Church of Rome that, “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”, the ungodly? As Saul of Tarsus, Paul was ungodly. But then one day he became a prisoner of Jesus Christ.
Paul became a prisoner of Jesus Christ in a personal sense, and then he was a prisoner of Jesus Christ in a political sense. Paul had preached the gospel, which led to a riot, which led to his arrest for disturbing the peace.
That is what the gospel does, it disturbs the peace. The gospel disrupts the peace of the unconverted as it pricks the conscience to say, “Prepare to meet thy God!” The gospel disrupts the peace of the ungodly who are content to murder babies, and keep their precious body parts as abortion trophies as Dr. Gosnell did in Philadelphia, and as Dr. Ulrich Klopfer did in Indiana. After his death on September 3, 2019, while going through his property, the family found 2,246 medically preserved fetal remains. The peace of the nation was shattered that day, hopefully.
Paul was a personal prisoner of Jesus Christ because the Lord Jesus captured his heart, and then he was a political prisoner of Jesus Christ because he shattered the Pax Romana, the peace of Rome.
But there is something else. Paul was a prisoner of Jesus Christ for the Gentiles. In other words, the reason why Paul had been converted to Christ, and then charged as a criminal by Rome was “for you Gentiles,” specifically “for you Ephesians.” What did he mean? Paul meant he had been saved, and then sentenced to house arrest for the Church of Ephesus.
Paul was not complaining. He was not angry. He was simply telling the Church of Ephesus that there was a just and righteous cause of which they were a part, if they had heard of the dispensation of the grace of God extended to them.
2 If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward:
The word “if” could be translated “since”you have heard of the grace of God. For Paul, it was worth being arrested for preaching the gospel since the people in Ephesus were able to hear of the grace of God which was given to Paul. so that he could extend it to others.
Now the reference to “the dispensation of the grace of God” has caused some unnecessary confusion in the hearts of some people, because there is a system of theology known as Dispensationalism. The early leaders of this movement took the Greek word translated here “dispensation”, and gave it a new meaning. For many, a “dispensation” refers to a “period of time.”
However, the word for dispensation in Greek is oikonomia (oy-kon-om-ee’-ah), and refers literally to the administration of a household or estate; specifically, a religious economy; stewardship.
In context, Paul was placed into the gospel ministry in order to dispense the gospel to the Gentiles. Paul is referring to his responsibility as a good steward of the gospel, not to a period of time. Paul is telling the Ephesians that he has a job to do, and that is to preach Christ. It is important to understand what Paul is saying, because people need to hear about God’s marvelous grace, not about arbitrary periods of time created by the fertile imaginations of men. What can people hear about the grace of God?
First, people, like the Ephesians, can hear that there is a Covenant of Grace. It was revealed in the Garden of Eden, just after The Fall. In the Covenant of Grace God promised a Saviour. “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15). This verse is often referred to by Bible teachers as the Protoevangelium predicting the ultimate triumph over sin through a coming Savior. It is the John 3:16 of the Old Testament.
Second, people, like the Ephesians, can hear, that God is a Covenant Keeping God. We read “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, 5 To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons” (Gal. 4:4,5).
Third, people can hear that God is willing to show mercy to any sinner that repents and calls upon the name of the Lord. “For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. 11 For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. 12 For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. 13 For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom. 10:10-13). Is it any wonder that the Church sings of God’s grace?
“Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,
Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!
Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured,
There where the blood of the Lamb was spilled.
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin.”
Julia H. Johnston
3 How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words,
4 Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)
Paul was able to preach effectively about the grace of God, and set forth the doctrine of grace in a logical manner, as a good steward will arrange a household, because he had been the recipient of grace.
One expression of God’s marvelous grace is Divine revelation. The word revelation [apokalupsis] means “to disclose; to unveil.” The Bible reveals that the gospel of the grace of God is a mystery. The word mystery [musterion] refers to a secret. The secret or “mystery” conveys the idea of silence imposed by initiation into religious rite.
A person who has ever joined a “Secret Organization” such as the Masons, or Mormonism, know there are initiation rituals where secrets are given, but silence is imposed. The gospel is the mystery of God, in that it is revealed only to some but not to all. Jesus Himself explained why.
One day Jesus was speaking to a great multitude (Mark 4:1ff). So vast was the pressing crowd that Jesus had to step into a boat to speak. The multitude continued to grow on the land as the people sat by the sea. Jesus taught many things, but he spoke by parables, and said unto them in His doctrine, Hearken, Behold, there went out a sower. After He completed speaking, the Disciples came to Jesus. “And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parable.
11 And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables:
12 That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them” (Mark 4:10-12).
It was an astonishing statement Jesus made as He quoted the prophet Isaiah (Isa. 6:9,10). The same gospel which reveals to some the way of eternal life, conceals understanding to others. What are the implications of the teaching of Jesus, and Paul’s statement?
First, the gospel of the grace of God is a matter of revelation. God the Holy Spirit must illuminate the mind if a person is to hear with understanding, be converted, and have their sins forgiven.
A blind man might not be able to see, but he can plead with the physician for sight.
A deaf and dumb man might not be able to hear or speak, but can make it known that he desperately wishes to, as Hellen Killer did.
So the sinner can plead with God for mercy and understanding, while confessing ignorance, as Nicodemus did.
Second, the gospel of the grace of God is a mystery only to those not initiated. Those who have the faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob rejoice to see the Lord, as Abraham did. The good news of salvation by grace through faith, the good news of a Redeemer, the good news that there is a Covenant of Grace is not a mystery, it is not hidden, it is fully disclosed.
Third, the gospel of the grace of God has always been known, but, in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as [to the same extent; to the same degree] as it is now revealed unto the holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. Notice Ephesians 4:5.
5 Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit;
What is the gospel of the grace of God that was not made known to others AS, in the same manner, or to the same degree, as is now revealed? Ephesians 4:6 explains.
6 That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel:
For a Jew, the idea that a Gentile could be a fellow heir, and of the same body, and of all the promises of God in Christ by the gospel was unthinkable. Do not marvel at how exclusive religious people can be. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that it alone is the one and only true and visible Church of Jesus Christ. But then, so do many Protestant groups. Have you heard of The Plymouth Brethren, Dispensationalists, or The Baptist Bride, an idea set forth in 1851 that only Baptist will be saved, and not all Baptist at that?
Then there are the Mormons, and the Jehovah Witnesses.
Each of these religious bodies would be amazed that the gospel of the grace of God would be revealed unto anyone else but themselves.
The idea that Gentles could be saved, and united in the body of Christ was something that needed divine illumination in the face of religious bigotry. It seemed like a great mystery, but it had been revealed in other ages, just not as clearly as in the days of the apostles.
There is evidence that the mystery was revealed in other ages in seed form. Consider the facts.
Abraham was a Gentile before he became the father of Isaac, who became the father of Jacob, who bore the twelves sons, that formed the twelve tribes of Israel.
Then there is the story of Rahab, and Ruth. Both are listed in the genealogy of the Messiah in Matthew 1: 4, 5. A Canaanite woman, and a woman of Moab are united with the people of God in Christ.
There are three other women in the Genealogy of Jesus. There is Tamar, Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, and Mary.
So of the five women, four establish the principle that Jews and Gentiles were to be united in Christ.
People read that for centuries, but did not fully understand what they were reading until the Holy Spirit came and revealed the truth to them.
It was a Eureka moment. “I have found it!” Paul examined, when the Spirit revealed the mystery of the grace of God to Him. Then, he was given the responsibility of a gospel steward to set the house of the Lord in order, and tell others within the Church what he had learned.
7 Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power.
To God be the glory, for the gift of divine revelation, and for the gifts of prophets, apostles, teachers, and most of all His Word illuminated by His Spirit.