Ephesians 3:17b-19

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.(Ephesians 3:17b-19 NIV)

Today’s passage is the continuation of the Apostle Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians (and us).

In yesterday’s prayer, Paul asked the Lord to strengthen the Ephesian believers through the Holy Spirit so that they would put down deep roots in Christ, so that nothing would be able to uproot their faith when the storms of life come.

Today, Paul prays that those deep roots in Christ would draw upon His life-giving power to grasp how much God loves us.

Paul reminds us that God’s love is a verb – it is God’s power in action for His glory, and for His work in us.

Paul also reminds us that God’s love surpasses what we know, and has the power to change our lives, if we will let Him.  Why was this important?  Why did Paul say this?

Paul understood the culture he and the Ephesians lived in, and he also understood human nature.  Let’s look at each one separately.

First, let’s look at the culture in place during Paul’s life.  Greek and Roman thought ruled the day.  Ideas, theories, concepts, and other abstract thought processes were the norm.  This was in contrast to Middle Eastern (including Jewish) thought, which focused on concrete realities of living life.  Paul used the Middle Eastern mindset to remind the Ephesians that while the Greek thought processes might contemplate what God’s love might be, or could be, or even might include, he wanted to tell the Ephesians about the reality of God and His love for them, and His actions on their behalf.

Secondly, let’s look at human nature.  Paul knew all about theory and head knowledge.  He also knew about reality, and how our hearts and souls function.  Paul understood that the Ephesians needed more of the reality of God’s love than the theory or feeling of God’s love.  When the storms of life come our way, we lean on what we can trust, what we know we can rely on, what has worked before.

So let’s walk through an example of these two contrasting approaches.  If you are starving, out of work, and have nowhere to live, and I come along and tell you that God loves you, then walk away, or even stop and pray for you before leaving, that does not help your situation.  God’s love is just abstract knowledge or theory at that point.  But if I tell you that God loves you, and then proceed to get you a meal, a place to stay, and help you find a job, then that is God’s love in action.  That is the concrete reality of God’s love demonstrated in your life.

Paul tells us that God has the resources of heaven and the universe at His disposal to put love in action for us.  His prayer is that we would comprehend just how large God’s love is, and in so doing it would change our lives forever.

May we be in jaw-dropping wonder of His love for us, and step into the fullness and reality of what that means for us daily.

For His glory,
~kevin

Ephesians 3:14-17a

14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.
(Ephesians 3:14-17a NIV)

The Apostle Paul restarts his prayer that he began in chapter 3 verse 1, after interrupting himself in verses 2 through 13.

Paul begins his prayer with “For this reason…”  So what reason is he referring to?  To find out, we have to put our detective hat on and follow the trail of evidence.

First, remember we said that verses 2 through 13 are Paul’s divine interruption, his digression for a few verses?  So let’s set aside verses 2 through 13 for just a moment.  Doing so will allow us to connect verses 1 and 14 as the start and continuation of Paul’s thoughts.

When we go back to verse 1, notice how Paul begins that sentence:  “For this reason…”  So when Paul uses this same phrase in verse 14, he is repeating himself, pickup up where he left off.

So now, following our trail of evidence, we must venture back into chapter 2 to find out what reason Paul is referring to.

In chapter 2, verses 11 through 22, Paul addresses the unity we have in Christ.  No more divisions like Jew/Gentile, etc.  Paul counts us all in Christ:

  • v. 14 – Christ is our peace
  • v. 14 – Christ has made the two groups (Jew & Gentile) one
  • v. 15 – Christ created one new humanity, one group
  • v. 18 – we all have access to God the Father through His Holy Spirit
  • v. 19 – we are all fellow citizens with Christ

As we follow this trail of evidence, we see that Paul is referring to the unity we have as believers and followers of Christ.

What is Paul’s reason for referring back to this reason, to the unity we have in Christ?

Rolling back to chapter 3 verse 14, we hear Paul’s heart.  He starts by humbly coming before the Lord in worship and thankfulness, both in heart attitude and position of body.

Paul says, “I kneel before the Father…”

Do we ever change the position of our body to reflect the attitude of our heart toward the Lord?

For me, sometimes how I present myself before God is more important that what I say or think.  This does not make me more or less acceptable in the sight of God than anyone else; I am not any more holy than the next person.  But what it does do is remind me that God is holy and righteous and loving, and is far greater than me.  And the simplest way to reflect that is to bow at the foot of the cross to say “thank you” to Jesus.

Paul tells us the reason for his thankfulness, the reason he is kneeling.  Paul is humbled and awed by the fact that we, as followers of Christ, are now one in Him, having been adopted into God’s family, and having a new identity, a new last name to tell the world whose we are, to Whom we belong.

Paul’s prayer, then, for the Ephesians (and us), is that we will be encouraged and strengthened and made one with Christ as part of His family, stepping into all that it means to be part of God’s household.  Paul says that his prayer is that we would allow Christ to dwell in our hearts by faith, to not only have God’s name as our name, but to have His heart and be part of who He is in every aspect of our being.

May we both receive Paul’s prayer in our hearts, and reflect it to others as well today.

Blessings,
~kevin

Ephesians 3:7-13

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. 10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms,11 according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. 13 I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.
(Ephesians 3:7-13 NIV)

As we continue reading Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we see Paul starting to pray in verse 1 of chapter 3, only to interrupt himself and go on a short diversion before resuming his prayer in verse 14.

And what was Paul’s diversion?  The mystery of the church including all followers of Jesus Christ  No more divisions of Jew/Gentile, slave/free, male/female, Greek/barbarian, or any other human-devised label.  We are all under Christ.

Paul continues that thought in today’s reading, pausing to humbly reflect on how God chose him to share in the revealing of the mystery of the Gospel coming to the Gentiles.  Paul identifies himself as “less than the least of all God’s people”, and thanks the Lord for being part of the revelation of this mystery from ages past to his present time.

In verse 9, Paul reminds us that God kept this mystery to Himself, known since the creation of the universe, and now is proclaiming the good news and making the boundless riches in Christ for the Gentiles (as well as the Jews) known to all.

In verse 10, Paul says that even the angels are looking at this mystery of the church and saying, “whoa, impressive – we never saw THAT coming!!”. Although Paul does not specify, the angels likely followed their astonishment with profuse amounts of praise and adoration of God, who had designed the oneness we have under Christ and kept it hidden all these centuries.

In verse 11, Paul reminds us that this is all according to God’s plan for His Son, Jesus Christ – nothing is left to circumstance, “luck”, or any other random event that could put this course of events in jeopardy.

In verse 12, Paul says that through Christ and the path that He made possible for all mankind, we may all, through faith in Christ, approach God with freedom and confidence.  What a sacrifice for Christ, and what a privilege for us!

Finally, Paul concludes his divine interruption, his short rabbit trail, by reassuring the Ephesians that everything that is happening to him, the beatings, the imprisonment, all the other sufferings, are for their benefit, and he is glad to serve the Lord in this way.  Paul is not saying he enjoys the abuse, mistreatment, and incarceration, but he is saying that if his sufferings for the Gospel and the sake of Christ help spread the Good News of Christ to others, he is willing to pay that price.

May we have such an attitude of humility, service, and love for the Lord that we would willingly trade places with Paul for the sake of others coming to know Christ.

Blessings,
~kevin

Ephesians 3:1-6

For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—

Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. 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.
(Ephesians 3:1-6 NIV)

The Apostle Paul continues to address the Gentile followers of Christ.  Today, Paul addresses the mystery of of the Gentiles coming to faith in Christ.

Old Testament followers of God believed that it was possible for Gentiles to come to faith in God.  In fact, God Himself made a way for them to do so.  So that was not part of the mystery – that was a “known”.  Gentile followers of God came under the same Old Testament laws that the Jews lived under, observed the same holy days, worshiped the same way, etc.  The path to following Israel’s God was well defined for the Gentile believer.

Both the Jewish believer and Gentile believer looked forward to the coming of the Messiah.  They knew Messiah would save both Jews and Gentiles, they did not, however, know the details.

So what was the mystery?  There were several parts to the unveiling of the mystery:

  • That Jew and gentile would one day be the same – no difference between them before God
  • That Messiah would come in bodily form, as Jesus did
  • The Messiah would indwell each believer (as Christ promised the Holy Spirit would do)

So going back to today’s text, we see Paul launching into a prayer in verse 1, only to interrupt himself in verse 2.  This divine interruption happens from verse 2 down through verse 13.  In verse 14, he restarts his prayer.

Paul starts in verses 2 and 3 by reminding the Gentiles that this revelation was made known to him, and is “new news” – it’s something that God has told Paul that was not known to prior generations.

In verses 4 and 5, Paul is careful to tell us that he is not claiming “special revelation”, that is, that only he was given this insight from God.  Paul says that the other apostles and prophets were given that same insight.

Why is that important?  There were many “teachers” and “evangelists” in those days, some preaching the truth of the Gospel, many of them not.  Many of these false teachers and false prophets were mis-using the Gospel for selfish gain, either for monetary increase, or for control of others.  Paul steers clear of those false teachers and prophets.

Verse 6 summarizes Paul’s revelation:

  • In Christ, the Gentiles are now heirs together with the Jews
  • In Christ, there is one body of followers, not two
  • In Christ, both Jews and Gentiles are fellow partakers of the promise of blessings

Paul’s writings were welcome news to the Gentile believers – they understood that they now had an equal seat at the table of God’s salvation, fellowship, and blessings as the Jews enjoyed.  They were no longer second-class citizens.

What great news we have, knowing that we are invited equally to Christ.  No more Jew/Gentile, slave/free, man/woman, Greek/barbarian, social, economic, or political designations before Christ.  He is Lord of all, and all other human labels fade away in His presence.  To God be the glory!

Blessings,
~kevin

Ephesians 2:19-22

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
(Ephesians 2:19-22 NIV)

The Apostle Paul continues on with his focus on unity within the local church, especially the unity of Jew and Gentile in Christ.

Today, Paul focuses on the status change for Gentiles, who were considered “outsiders” to the Jews prior to Christ.  If anyone wanted to follow the God of the Jews in Old Testament times, they followed God’s Laws, and became part of the Jewish community.  They were Jews by association, not by bloodline.

Isaiah 56:6-7 shows that God loved all people, and desired a relationship with them, even before Christ:

And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord
    to minister to him,
to love the name of the Lord,
    and to be his servants,
all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it
    and who hold fast to my covenant—
these I will bring to my holy mountain
    and give them joy in my house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and sacrifices
    will be accepted on my altar;
for my house will be called
    a house of prayer for all nations.”
(Isaiah 56:6-7 NIV)

There are many other Old Testament scriptures where the Lord made provisions for Gentiles to become His followers and worship Him. For the sake of brevity, we won’t dig into all study here.

Paul reminds us that Gentiles are not just “tolerated”, but “fellow citizens” and “members of His household”.  We’re part of God’s family!  And all this is possible through Christ, who is the “chief cornerstone” of that house, that temple that Christ is building.

Verse 22 says that we are a part of that building, of that temple, where God dwells.  The God of the Universe chooses to come dwell in us, through His Holy Spirit… incredible!

Thinking back a moment to verse 7 of chapter 2, where Paul talks about “in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus”, we see just how big God us, and how inexhaustible are His resources and His ability to love us.

It’s easy to think about this on a one-on-one basis, four ourselves, or in a small group like family or close friends.  God gives us that same capacity to love that number of people.  But when we take Paul’s description of God’s love and apply it to people all over the world, and across time and history, that number becomes astronomical!  Even if we limit our scope of understanding to those who are Christ-followers, that number still likely runs into the tens of millions!

Only God can love that much.  Most of us would get overwhelmed with loving on 50 people or less on a consistent basis, some even less than that.

Lord, thank You for caring for each of us, for loving us and making us feel “at home” in You.  Lord, to think that You know us by name, and that we are not just a number or a statistic to You – that You even number the hairs on our head is amazing, beyond comprehension.

Thank You, Lord, that there are no more divisions in You, no Jew/Gentile, no male/female, no slave/free, no race, no nationality, no denomination, only unity in Christ.  You are truly worthy of our praise and adoration and love.

Blessings,
~kevin

Ephesians 2:14-18

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
(Ephesians 2:14-18 NIV)

The Apostle Paul continues with his theme of reconciliation and unity in Christ.  In Paul’s day, people divided themselves up in every way imaginable – by race, gender, social standing, religious affiliation, Greek vs. barbarian (non-Greek speaking), economic standing, political power, slave vs. free, and myriad other ways so they could make themselves look better than someone else.

Hmmmmm… sound familiar?

Paul addresses the proverbial “elephant in the room” in the early church – the biggest division they face – that of Jew vs. Gentile.  God had originally designated the Jews to be His example to the world, and to invite the rest of the world to come to the God of the Jews, the One True God.

But instead of using their faith as a springboard to tell others about God, the Jews used their faith as a divisive separator from the rest of the world.  And the split between Jew and everyone else became bigger and bigger, growing to mountainous proportions.  And that same split was still evident in the local church / synagogue, so Paul was addressing the issue.

In verse 14, Paul reminds us that Jesus is the peacemaker.  He does so not by force, with a gun or sword or power, but by love.  Paul says that Christ destroyed the barrier between Jew and Gentile, and united the two groups as one.  How did Jesus accomplish this?  Through His death, burial, and resurrection, He fulfilled the demands of God’s Law and allowed us access to God, through His righteousness.

Paul’s point?  We are all one in Christ – all other designations are man-made and of no significance.  Listen to Paul’s words to the Colossian church, telling them this same thing:

Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.  (Colossians 3:11 NIV)

In verse 16, Paul reminds us that Jesus’ purpose was to reconcile both Jew and Gentile to God.  Paul says that Jesus put to death their hostility on the cross.  While we may not get along with the people in the world around us, our bigger issue is our separation from God, through our sin.  And that is what Christ removed at the cross.

In verses 17 and 18, Paul reminds us of Christ’s ministry – to preach peace to both Jew and Gentile, and offer access for all to God Himself.  Christ does not demand uniformity of outer label or practice; instead, He offers unity of heart and reconciliation to God through His death on the cross.  All other labels we try to attach to ourselves or force on others quickly fade in comparison to our reconciliation with God through Jesus.

Now that news is something to celebrate and share!

Blessings,
~kevin

Ephesians 2:11-13

11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
(Ephesians 2:11-13 NIV)

The Apostle Paul moves on, starting in verse 11, to discuss reconciliation between Jew and Gentile in Christ.  As a quick review, in chapter 1, Paul reveals God’s plan through the ages, to love mankind and make a way for us to be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ.  In the first part of chapter 2, Paul reminds us that we were dead in our trespasses and sins, and that Christ freed us from the penalty of sin, and raised us to life spiritually, has prepared a place for us in heaven, and gives us meaning and purpose for our lives.

Up to this point, Paul has not made any distinctions to his audience – people are people, period.

Now Paul turns the corner and addresses the distinction between Jew and Gentile.  Notice Paul’s first word in verse 11 – “therefore”.  Any time we see this word, we must ask ourselves, “What is the ‘therefore’ there for?”  In other words, what does the “therefore” look back to, or build upon, for the author to make their point?

In this case, Paul is referring back to the focus in chapter 1 and the beginning of chapter 2, which is the person of Christ.  In chapter 1, Paul either calls out or refers to Christ more than 20 times.  In chapter 2, verses 1-10, Paul mentions or refers to Christ 5 times.

So the “therefore” refers back to Christ, and all that God has done through Christ on our behalf.  So Paul is saying, “keeping in mind all that Christ has done for mankind, let’s talk about this whole Jew-Gentile issue.”

Paul addresses the Gentile believers in verses 11 and 12.  He reminds them that before Christ, Gentiles were excluded from fellowship with God.  If they wanted to follow God, they had to become Jews, following the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament).  This included circumcision for the men, and following God’s Laws for all.

In verse 13, Paul says that separation of the Gentiles has been removed.  Paul says that because of the blood of Christ, which paid for the sins of all mankind, Gentiles now have direct access to salvation and a relationship with God.  No longer do Gentiles who want to follow the Lord have to become Jewish first.

Going back to verses 8 through 10 of chapter 2, Paul’s point is that it is all God’s work to bring us to salvation.  There is nothing we can do to earn favor with God, including good works, not even circumcision.  Salvation is by faith alone, period.

Isn’t that wonderful news?  God invites us to fellowship with Himself, through Christ’s payment for our sins on the cross.  Everyone has direct access to God through Jesus Christ.  Thank You, Lord!

Blessings,
~kevin