Do you enjoy being in a social group, fitting-in a group of friends, or being accepted in an exclusive social club? Have you ever been excluded by a group or being rejected for joining a social club because you are born different? I remember when I first came to Australia as a migrant in Year 8, it was very hard for me to make friends in school. In a new environment in a different country, learning and living with a new language. As a foreigner, many things that are common to the locals are foreign to you. But no matter how I tried to fit in with the locals who grew up in Australia, there is always a sense of exclusiveness among the majority in the class. You don’t understand the jokes they spoke, and you don’t understand the pop culture references that they are referring to. I would often feel not really fit into the class, feeling being excluded from the social groups in class because I came from a foreign Chinese background. Have you ever feel this way of being excluded by a cultural group?
In the Old Testament time, the gathering of God’s people is exclusive; the worship of Yahweh is only for the Jews. If you are born in a different race, you are a goner. You are far away from fellowship with God’s people. But some dramatic change of this social structure had shaken up when Jesus came on the earth. Jesus has broken the barrier between Jews or non-Jews on the cross, so that no matter if you are born Jewish or not, you can have the forgiveness of sins as the children of God. After Jesus was raised from the dead and went back up to heaven, Apostle Paul was appointed by the Spirit to set up churches across the Roman Empire and proclaim the good news of Jesus to the Gentiles.
1) The mystery of the Gospel
In Chapter 3, verse 1, Paul began with the phrase “for this reason”. This reason is from the last chapter, where Paul mentioned that both Jews and Gentiles had been brought near by the blood of Christ. Jesus has abolished the barrier between Jew and Gentile, and they are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.
Paul’s message is addressed to the Gentile believers that the truth has been revealed to him, that Gentiles, the non-Jews like you and me, are fellow-heirs, fellow-members, and fellow-partakers with the Jews of the promises of God. What a privilege to us! We don’t need to be circumcised and become a Jew to enter God’s kingdom. But it is a taboo in the ears of the Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem that uncircumcised people to join in the worship of the LORD.
Paul addressed himself to be “a prisoner of Christ” because he was under house arrest in Rome for preaching about Jesus. At that time, the religious leaders in Jerusalem felt threatened by Christ’s teachings, and they didn’t believe that Jesus is indeed the Messiah – the king that they have been waited for. So they pressured the Romans to arrest Paul and bring him to prison, waiting for the trial of treasons and leading a rebellion.
But even Paul was in prison; the suffering didn’t bother him. He knew that God is in charge of world affairs, and he knew that God had given him the message of truth by the administration of God’s grace. He is God’s messenger to the Gentiles, and he is giving us this mystery of the Gospel, that was made known to him by the revelation of God. God told Paul about the mystery of Christ, which has not been revealed in the Old Testament time, that nobody knows until Jesus came. All the generations before him were not made known, until now, when God has finally revealed it to the apostles and prophets through the Holy Spirit.
How do we know the prophets in the Old Testament time has been told about this mystery? Look at Isaiah 49:6, the Lord says,
“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth”.
It was God’s plan from the beginning that the Gentiles will receive his salvation through Jesus Christ so that God’s salvation might reach to the ends of the earth.
Why? Paul answered in verse 6, “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.” The grace from God is that the Gospel is preached to both Jews and Gentiles; there are no boundaries between races in God’s kingdom. This mystery was hidden in God at the Old Testament time, but “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.” (Ephesians 3:10) These rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms are either angels who are witnesses to these events or hostile spiritual forces opposed to God, which is still very alive in the Gentiles’ world where people who don’t know about Jesus. It is by God’s eternal purpose and by the work done by Jesus, our Lord on the cross, that all of us may approach God with freedom and confidence by faith in Jesus’ name. It is God’s glory. It is God’s wisdom. It is God’s grace to each and every one of us.
When Paul became a servant of the Gospel, God gave him the gift and ability to share the Gospel of Christ effectively. We are not apostles, and you may not be an evangelist, but God will give you opportunities to tell others about Christ. And with the opportunities, God will provide you with the ability, courage, and power. So we need to make ourselves available to God as his servants whenever an opportunity presents itself. As you focus on the other person and his or her needs, God will communicate your caring attitude. Your words will be natural, loving, and compelling to them. Even if you are in different racial or cultural background, God will use you as his servant to carry on this universal, multi-cultural and global message of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. His Spirit will be with you, and he will empower you in that hour when the opportunities to share the Gospel arise. And thanks to Jesus, by faith, we can enter directly into God’s presence through prayer. We know that we will be welcomed with open arms because we are God’s children through our union with Christ. Don’t be afraid of God. Talk with him about everything. He is waiting to hear from you.
In verse 13, Paul told his readers in the letter, “I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.” Why should Paul’s suffering make the Ephesians feel honoured? If Paul had not preached the Good News, he would not be in jail, but then the Ephesians would not have heard of the Gospel and been converted either. Paul endured the pain of persecution in order to bring new believers to Christ. Anyone who has been a Christian for a long time knows that obeying Christ is never easy. Jesus calls you to take your cross and follow him. And as his followers, we must obey our master.
As Jesus has spoken, “Whoever wants to be my disciples must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25) Paul knew what it means to be a true disciple of Christ. As followers of Christ, we need to learn from the example of Apostle Paul, don’t be discouraged when you suffer or hearing a brother or sister in Christ suffered for the Gospel. It is God’s glory. And everyone who really wants to follow Jesus has to expect to be persecuted in the hostile world of the Gentles because there will always be opposite forces against Jesus and God’s salvation plan.
I remember one of my colleague from Moore College, he was one of the top students in my year, and many pastors in Sydney would love him to work with their churches. Still, no, he denied all the offers and enrolled with CMS, a missionary organisation to bring the Gospel of Nepal, China, with his newborn daughter and wife, willing to sacrifice time to those who not yet know Jesus. As a foreigner from Australia, an evangelist of Christ, he is continuously under the pressure of risking to get himself or those who he had brought to Christ in trouble by the persecution of the local government. Yet, I remember when I asked him why he was willing to go to such a politically dangerous area in the world in the risk of his life and his family’s life. He quoted the same verse from Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, “Whoever wants to be my disciples must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” His courage to serve Christ, just like Apostle Paul’s courage to be willing to suffer in prison for Christ, is something that every believer should learn when the oppression comes.
2) Prayers for strength, love, fullness
After that, Paul said in verse 14 that he kneeled and prayed for every family that rooted in God’s holy name. The family of God includes all who have believed in him in the past, all who believe in the present, and all who will believe in the future. We are all a family because we have the same Father in heaven. He is the source of all creation. If we want to receive God’s blessings, it is crucial that we stay in contact with other believers in the body of Christ, and pray for our brothers and sisters continually. And what did Paul pray for us? Look at verse 16, “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 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, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
That – is very deep and profound. God’s love is total. It reaches every corner of our experience. It is wide – It covers the breadth of our own experience, and it reaches out to the whole world. God’s love is long – it continues the length of our lives and beyond till eternity. It is high – it rises to the heights of our celebration and joy. His love is also deep – it reaches to the depths of discouragement, despair, and even death. When you feel shut out or isolated, remember that you can never be lost to God’s love.
People who believe in Christ are strengthened by the Holy Spirit comprehended God’ love and are filled with the fullness of God.
When Paul prayed this prayer, he has four requests that flow out of each other:
The first request is for inner spiritual strength. Paul is not talking about self-discipline or the power of positive thinking. This is not mental renewing or getting a grip on yourself. This is a work of God from his Spirit to our spirit.
This leads to the second request, deep faith. This deep faith is not salvation. Paul was writing to Christians, and Jesus lives in our heart when we accept him. It is more than faith that comes with salvation. Paul is talking about Christ’ being at home in the hearts of the believers. Jesus lives in your heart. To have Christ dwell in our hearts through faith means for him to be at home in every corner of our life because we believe his promises and therefore become obedient to his word.
The third element is a prayer for abundant love. Love must become the dominant quality of life, the roots of your existence, the foundation on which all else rests. Such love in your life comes from divine love because the strengthening of our inner selves by the Holy Spirit allows us to let Jesus be at home in all the rooms of our heart. Letting Christ be at home in all the places of our heart enables us to know the vast dimensions of the love of Christ.
We all need foundations for our experiences and relationships. We can’t handle life unless we are assured that God loves us and has accepted us, that we are dear to him, precious to him. When we know how much God loves us, then we know who we are, as God’s people. Then we have a sense of well-being through love. In turns, this sense of new identity and being loved gives us the ability to relate to others so that we can comprehend with all the saints the magnitude of the love of God. Knowing God’s love is not an individual accomplishment. It occurs only in the loving context of the church and involves the whole church, not isolated individuals. So if we want to be “filled to the measure of the all the fullness of God” as Paul prayed in verse 19, we must love one another in the fellowship of Christ in the global Church.
More than that, we must continue to pray for one another as Paul did for the Ephesians Christians, that all will be filled with the love of Christ, and we will all realise the magnitude of Christ’s love for each of us.
This year as well start the prayer triplet groups. I hope we all who have joined a prayer group will continue to put this in prayer, that we might be trained to pray like Apostle Paul for one another.
3) Praising God through Doxology
Finally, Paul ended Chapter 3 of his discussion of the mystery of the church and his prayer for power with praising to God through Doxology. He wrote, “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, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 4:20-21)
God should receive eternal glory for what he has done for us. God is sovereign; in His sovereignty, God may choose to do whatever he wills. What God can do far exceeds anything we can imagine, His sovereignty means our prayers, like Paul’s prayers, can be answered far beyond even what we ask.
God is also all-powerful. God manifests his great power in many ways. Most obviously, he manifested it when he created the world. He used that kind of power to bring the Jews and Gentiles together and form them into a dwelling of God in the Spirit. The power we see in the creation and the church is the power of God that works in each us individually. It is God’s work amongst us together as his Church in the love relationship of prayer.
The power God has manifested and continues to display has a purpose – bringing glory to him. All that God has done is to resound to his glory forever. God has done things in the church among his people and in Christ, where his people now abide and where God completed his plan of salvation. As we see and recognise God’s work in the church and Christ, we respond in praise and worship, giving God glory.
So what can we bring home from the passage today? We need to remember that members of Christ’s church should mature spiritually and experienced the fullness of God. And this experience can only be done in the love of Christ among us to each other.
Remember what Paul wrote in verse 19, “and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Let us all love and serve the Lord with love, filled with God’s fullness this week.