Ephesians 3: The Great Planner
Read Ephesians 3 and Acts 22 prior to reading this blog.
In the third chapter of Ephesians, Paul is laying out the mystery: the plan previously left untold, hidden by God. This mystery was so great that it was never told to anyone in this much detail, ever before but through the grace of God, Paul has been given insider information. You can read through the Old Testament and see the prophecy of the salvation of Gentiles in the Messiah (check out Isaiah 42), but this revealed plan? No one’s ever heard it.
So what is this great mystery? Ephesians 3:6 explains: “This mystery is that through the Gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.”
Everyone who is willing is welcome in the Kingdom of God! God’s great plan this entire time has been inclusivity and unity revealed through Christ Jesus. It is a plan to give Jew and Gentile a future and a hope through salvation due to His unconditional love, therefore blessing us with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Ephesians 3:1). Us Christians in the 21st century may get this idea of unity but let’s take a look at how things were in about 62 AD when Paul was writing this.
Jewish Believers Held Onto Their Law
Jewish believers at this time did not see the coming of Christ as the rejection of Judaism, so they stood fast to the Law in hopes to remain obedient to God. This law strictly distinguished the Jew from the Gentile causing hostility and hesitance towards those Gentiles coming to Christ.
In the mind of a Jewish man or woman in the first century, a Gentile may look as though they were given a free pass. See, the Gentiles were never obligated to the Law either before Christ or after Christ...the Gentiles never had to abide by these 613 commandments as the Jews did for 4,000 years. For the Jewish believer, this was a very confusing topic to discuss: the salvation of the Gentile and being one with them. Imagine being taught for hundreds of generations that “this is how you get to God” then some beautifully radiant Son of Man comes down. He preaches for 3 years and is put on a horrific cross. He’s whipped, flogged, and led to die a physical death. And through these 3 short years, Jesus revolutionizes religion. He’s saying: “This is by grace through faith you are saved, not by works. And Gentiles can join in eternal life too and be one with us!” Due to the blood of Jesus Christ, we are totally, abundantly forgiven for our sins and trespasses, Jew and Gentile alike.
“It Happened So Quickly”
In the moment of His crucifixion and resurrection, it could’ve seemed insignificant and maybe discouraging due to a huge religious, but human, expectation. Daniel 9:26 prophesies this exact event: “the Anointed One will be killed, appearing to have accomplished nothing.” To man on that day, it may have seemed that the beloved Jewish salvation belief system was uprooted in just ⅛ of a day.
Now as Christians we know the very nature of this crucifixion, the true inclusivity that exists in it. It is our foundation of Christianity, the emblem around our necks and tattoo on our hearts, it’s The Gospel.
God used Paul!
And you know who God used to tell this great plan of one-ness? Someone who used to persecute others for their differences. Saul of Tarsus (later becoming Paul) was a Pharisee, the Hebrew of all Hebrews, an extreme student of the Law. He was a leading member in the persecuting and killing of Christians. And God used this man to reveal His great plan of unity: of all being accepted in the Kingdom of Heaven; His design for them all to become one body. Can someone talk about grace?
Ephesians 3:7-10 NIV: “I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of His power. Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things.”
Paul understands grace for he has experienced how God meets you right where you’re at. God is so rich in grace that He can expend as much needed to bring you to Him. Paul was so undeserving but... chosen. No wonder he is trying to get us to wrap our minds around the saving power of grace!
A Place in the Plan
In some translations, Paul says in Ephesians 3:7 that he is a “minister”. In classical literature of ancient Greece, the minister is a table waiter who is always at the bidding of his customers. It’s not a position of exaltation, it’s a position of servitude. In the same manner, each of us has a place in the service of God’s eternal plan.
Paul was being used, and probably in a greater way than he ever imagined. This specific Roman imprisonment produced the letters of Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon. 4 letters of the New Testament written in one “quarantine”. I wonder if Paul ever dreamt of these letters being sent around the world for centuries to come or if he was like the rest of us, having such a limited mindset on the works we do, dreaming of them to potentially benefit our current age. But as we can see, God does things from our lifetime that can last for hundreds and thousands of years if it is for His glory. Ephesians 3:20 “Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us.”
As Christians, we must bear an eternal mindset and have faith that God will exceed. We must see that we do not serve our temporary human selves, but we serve an eternal, everlasting God. Anything done for the glory of His name will not fade. As humans, our prayers are so small compared to His plan. We must pray large, work hard, and rely on Him.
Let this sink in: God sees from a heavenly perspective, scanning the whole globe and the whole course of history and the future. You can only see the exact second you’re in. Standing on a flat surface with your eyes about 5 feet off the ground, the farthest distance that you can humanly see is about 3 miles, or 27 square miles. But God can see the whole earth, which is 196.6million square miles. In global length terms, God can see 7,281,481.5x further in one second than you’ll ever be able to.
God had the great plan for Paul’s life the second he was born and all throughout the time he was Saul of Tarsus! He saw 7,000,000x further than Saul ever could. Here are some ways God prepared Saul of Tarsus for his unique role to carry the Gospel around the world to all ethnic groups through his life experiences:
Paul was born a Jew while having the rights and privileges of a Roman citizen.
Paul had the best education the Jewish people could offer. He studied under Gamaliel, a Pharisee doctor of Jewish law. Paul grew up devoting his life to reading and interpreting Old Testament scripture, the story of God with His chosen people.
As a Roman citizen, he had certain legal and cultural advantages such as the right to appeal after trial and protection by the Roman garrison (Acts 22:25-29).
He developed the skill of tentmaking which provided him financial support and a network of marketplace associates.
He was multilingual, able to communicate with multiple ethnic groups.
God is the Great Planner and He has crafted a great plan including all of His believers. When you volunteer yourself as a servant, The King will use you. My, oh my, will it exceed immeasurably more than you have ever asked or imagined.
Isaiah 42:1-7: “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his teaching the islands will put their hope.” This is what God the Lord says— the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out, who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it: “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness, I will take hold of your hand, I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.”
What was one time in your life you felt included?
One time someone gave you grace, completely undeservingly?
Who is someone in your life you’ve seen do a complete 180 (for the good), like Saul of Tarsus?
I am in awe for all that You have done for me, I pray before you Father, the Creator of everything in Heaven and on earth. I pray that You will strengthen me through Your Spirit. I invite You, Jesus Christ, into my heart as I grow in my trust with You. Help me Lord, to trust You, despite any opposition that may face me. I pray that my roots grow down into Your love and keep me strong. I ask that you keep both my feet planted firmly on Your love. Dear Father, please grant me the power to understand how wide, how long, how high, and how deep Your love is. May I experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Make me complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from you, Oh God. Guide me to live a full life, full in the fullness of You.
I pray this in your name, Lord Jesus Christ.