I wonder what would have happened if several African-American families began worshiping with our (not by design) all-white church.
In the 1st century, the conflict is Jew-Gentile. Paul has just stressed that believing Gentiles are (with believing Jews) part of the one Body of Christ (Ephesians 2:11-22). Here he reminds the church that his ministry is for the sake of those Gentiles.
“For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles—” (Ephesians 3:1).
Paul repeats “For this reason” later in 3:14. Here he’s about to tell them how he prays for them. But when he mentions being a prisoner of Christ, he sidetracks into discussing his ministry to them, because he’s chained for their sake.
He means his Gentile ministry has raised Jewish ire. And their riotous-reaction has resulted in his arrest. But ultimately he’s “a prisoner for Christ Jesus”. Imagine what his Roman guards thought when they heard that! This little Jew is not a prisoner of the Romans, not of Caesar, but of Christ Jesus. Whatever Christ wants, to that Paul surrenders. To Christ’s will, Paul is bound.
“ . . .assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Ephesians 3:2-6).
Paul assumes his readers have heard of his ministry. (Another indication he wants this letter cycled through west Asia churches he’s never visited, unlike Ephesus where he had spent 2-3 years.)
He sees his ministry as a gift, a gift given him for them. He calls it both “the stewardship of God’s grace” and “the mystery of Christ”. “ . . . stewardship” (oikonomian) refers to management (in this case, of God’s grace) with a strong sense of responsibility or trusteeship. A “mystery” is something previously hidden but now “made known to me by revelation”. This “revelation” (also to other “holy apostles and prophets”) came not by human insight, but “by the Spirit”. The mystery is that through Christ “Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”
This doesn’t hit us as it did first century Jews. Division between Jew and non-Jew was God-ordained and absolute (under the Law)! Which brings us back to those black families worshiping among our all-white church. Or two Muslim families who profess conversion to Christ gathering with us. They are “fellow heirs”. They are “members of the same body”. They are partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus”. Feel the tension?
“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” (Ephesians 3:7-10).
What remarkable statements these are coming from a Jewish rabbi, who once proudly flaunted his religious achievements . . .
“If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless” (Philippians 3:4b-6).
But now, since Christ Jesus: “I was made a minister . . . according to the gift of God’s grace . . . which was given me by the working of his power . . . though I am the very least of all the saints this grace was given . . . “.
Paul is aware of his own unworthiness and of Christ’s overwhelming grace. The “riches” of Christ Paul has been given to preach are all the facets of his saving grace. They are “unsearchable”. That is, they’re like a reservoir without bottom.
Paul’s mission is to bring the mystery to light for everyone, “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places”.
The word translated “manifold” means “richly diversified”, “multifaceted” and “infinitely diverse.” God’s saving wisdom is intricate in design and effect. This “manifold” saving wisdom produces a multi-racial, multi-cultural community—all fellow members of the one Body of Christ.
Paul says God wants this made known to “the rulers and authorities in heavenly places”. That is, to demonic powers, so they can see that all things have been subjected to God’s grace in Christ. So the powers can see they are powerless to divide humanity because all believers are one in Christ.
By what means does God want this made known? “ . . . through the church”. It’s through this multi-racial, multi-cultural community of believers God makes his wisdom known.
“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 3:11-13).
God’s stewardship of grace, God’s mystery of Christ in whom Jews and Gentiles are reconciled, God’s purpose that the church bear witness of God’s manifold witness which creates one new multi-racial people in Christ—all this is “according to [God’s] eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
In him we—and everyone—have boldness and confident access to God through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord. Consequently, Paul asks the church not to be discouraged over his suffering from bringing the gospel to them. His suffering, he believes, is the means of God’s grace in Christ being proclaimed. This gospel is their glory.
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Years ago someone devised a devilish plot for church growth. A homogeneous congregation! The more alike everyone, the more “alikes” will be attracted. Proponents didn’t mean it to be devilish; but it was. If I understand Ephesians, God wants churches composed of “non-alikes” just like the world is. If a church of “non-alikes” could live in loving unity, what a powerful witness of Christ to the world.
Even more importantly, what a powerful witness to the fallen spiritual powers in the heavenly realms! Such a church of loving “non-alikes” reminds them that their chaotic authority has been broken and the Lord Jesus Christ reigns.
I don’t have a game plan for making this happen. Indeed, maybe only the Holy Spirit can do this to a church praying for this kind of revival.
But one step we can take today. Instead of just hanging out with your typical circle at church, scout out somebody different and reach out to her.