Amplified: To me, though I am the very least of all the saints (God’s consecrated people), this grace (favor, privilege) was granted and graciously entrusted: to proclaim to the Gentiles the unending (boundless, fathomless, incalculable, and exhaustless) riches of Christ [wealth which no human being could have searched out], (Amplified Bible - Lockman)
Barclay: It is to me, who am less than the least of all God’s consecrated people, that this privilege has been given—the privilege of preaching to the Gentiles the wealth of Christ, the full story of which no man can ever tell; (Westminster Press)
NET: To me--less than the least of all the saints--this grace was given, to proclaim to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ (NET Bible)
NLT: Just think! Though I did nothing to deserve it, and though I am the least deserving Christian there is, I was chosen for this special joy of telling the Gentiles about the endless treasures available to them in Christ. (NLT - Tyndale House)
Phillips: Yes, to me, less than the least of all Christians, has God given this grace, to enable me to proclaim to the Gentiles the incalculable riches of Christ, (Phillips: Touchstone)
Wuest: To me, the one who is less than the least of all saints, there was given this grace, to the Gentiles to proclaim the good news of the incomprehensible wealth belonging to the Christ
Young's Literal: to me--the less than the least of all the saints--was given this grace, among the nations to proclaim good news--the untraceable riches of the Christ
TO ME, THE VERY LEAST OF ALL SAINTS: emoi to elachistotero panton hagion:
- Proverbs 30:2,3; Romans 12:10; 1Corinthians 15:9; Philippians 2:3; 1Timothy 1:13,15; 1Peter 5:5,6
- Ephesians 3 Resources - Multiple Sermons and Commentaries
- Ephesians 3:8 The Unsearchable Riches of Christ - Steven Cole
- Ephesians 3:9-13 God's Eternal Purpose and You - Steven Cole
- Ephesians 3:7-13 The Mystery Revealed, Part 3 - John MacArthur
Remember that Ephesians 3:2, 3, 4, 5,6, 7, 8, 9, ,10, 11, 12, 13 is a single sentence in the original Greek text and as such represents a "parentheses" in which Paul digresses to explain the origin of the Church composed of believing Jew and Gentile who are now one body in Christ.
John Eadie writes…
He was a minister of the gospel through the gracious power of God. This reflection ever produced within him profound wonder and humility; and though in one sense he was greater than the greatest of all saints, yet the consciousness of his own demerit stood out in such striking contrast with the high function to which he had been called, that he exclaims—“To me, who am less than the least of all saints”—emoi (to me) being emphatic from its position (note it is first in the Greek sentence).
Very least - Vincent explains that "A comparative is formed upon a superlative: "more least than all the saints".
NET Bible has "less than the least of all saints" - for Paul to view himself as less than the least of all the saints is to view himself as the most unworthy object of Christ’s redemption.
Very least (1646) (elachistos superlative of elachus = little, short) describes the least important, the lowest in status. It can describe being relatively the smallest in a specific class such as the rudder (compared to the tongue) in Jas 3:4. Finally it can pertain to being considered of very little importance and thus insignificant or trivial (Lk 12:26, 16:10, 19:17, 1Co 4:3, 6:2)
Eadie writes that in this verse…
elachistotero is a comparative, founded on the superlative elachistos—“less than the least;” a form designed to express the deepest self-abasement.
Elachistos - 14x in 12v - The NAS translates elachistos as least(6), smallest(1), very least(1), very little thing(4), very small(1), very small thing(1).
Matt. 2:6; 5:19; 25:40, 45; Lk. 12:26; 16:10; 19:17; 1 Co. 4:3; 6:2; 15:9; Eph. 3:8; Jas. 3:4.
Paul is saying he is "more least than all the saints". In fact, elachistos means "less than the least" and expresses Paul's honest, deep self-abasement. In other words, Paul is not exhibiting a sense of false humility but a true self-estimate from a man filled with the Holy Spirit and one who knew his true unworthiness in face of "gift of God's grace" and the perfect righteousness of God. Paul wrote a similar self-estimate in other letters in which there seems to be a progression (see table below). Anyone who sees Christ in His glory realizes his own sinfulness and uselessness. As Christ increased in Paul, Paul decreased (cf John 3:30). Understanding the deep truths of God’s Word does not give a man a big head; it gives him a broken and contrite heart.
Paul (Paulus) means “little” in Latin, and perhaps Paul bore this name because he realized how insignificant he really was.
Hughes comments on "very least" writing that…
Again Paul bends the language. He takes the Greek word for “least” or “smallest” and adds an ending which is impossible linguistically, so that he comes out with the word “leaster.” Some think he was playing off his Latin name Paulus, which meant “little” or “small,” so that the idea is, “I am little by name, little in stature, and morally and spiritually littler than the least of all Christians.” I am Small Paul. (Hughes, R. K.: Ephesians: The Mystery of the Body of Christ. Crossway Books)
Johnson explains "the very least" this way…
By the way, Paul’s Latin name, “Paul,” means “little.” And what he has done here is to take the word least in the Greek text and make it a comparative. Now least is a superlative. But he has said, “I who am leaster”; that’s what he’s done in Greek. So he’s taken a superlative and made it a comparative. It’s as if he’s to say, “I’m not simply the littlest, but the littlester of all the saints.” He really feels that way because he persecuted the church of God. (Ephesians 3:1-13 Dispensation of Grace)
PROGRESSION of PAUL'S
1Cor 15:9 For I am the least of the apostles, who am not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
Eph 3:8 To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ,
1Ti 1:15 It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.
See Related Exposition - 1Corinthians 15:9 Commentary
As you examine this chart, you see that we come face to face with the phenomenon which is frequently seen in the great leaders and saints of the past. It is that the older they grow, the more acute is their own sense of sin and of weakness in themselves. They see that what they once thought to be natural strengths are really weaknesses that emanate from our fallen flesh. So if this (an increasing sense of the corruption of your old flesh nature) is beginning to happen to you, you are growing as a Christian. Paul never forgot the wonder of being chosen to be a custodian of divine truth. To reiterate, the most godly men in the Bible were deeply aware of their own utter depravity in the presence of God (see Ge. 18:27; Job 42:6; Isa 6:5; Dan. 9:4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11,12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19; Ezek 1:28-note, Luke 5:8, 9, Re 1:17-note). It is significant that in none of these cases did the Lord say, “That’s not true! You need to see yourself as a saint, not a sinner!” Once the man (saint) realized the truth of his sinfulness, the Lord graciously gave words of encouragement to restore (e.g., see Job 42:7, 8; Is 6:7; Da 9:23; Lk 5:10). On the other hand, it can be argued that God’s specific intent in each of these men was to bring these sinner/saints to a lower and more accurate estimate of themselves in God’s holy presence. Notice in John the baptizer's last recorded words (before he was beheaded) he affirmed that…
He (Christ) must (not an option but an obligation, present tense = continually) increase (present tense = continually), but (note the dramatic contrast) I must (not in Greek - added by translators but reasonably parallels the meaning of the first verb dei [must]) decrease (present tense = continually).
Comment: Note the order for it is very significant. First, Christ increasing, then John decreasing. This is the natural (supernatural) order for when we see Christ in His majesty, beauty, perfection, glory, etc, we can do nothing but see ourselves for who we really are with the result that we are humbled in His presence. In fact many times in Scripture, those who saw the glory of Christ, were soon on their face on the ground! Considering John the baptizer's mindset in relation to his Lord, is it any wonder that Christ Himself said that "among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist" (Mt 11:11). May his tribe increase!
As Donald Guthrie states in his comments on Paul's declaration of his status in 1Timothy 1:15…
Paul never got away from the fact that Christian salvation was intended for sinners, and the more he increased his grasp of the magnitude of God’s grace, the more he deepened the consciousness of his own naturally sinful state (The Pastoral Epistles, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries [Eerdmans], p. 65) (See a "real life" example in the testimony of the great hymn writer and preacher, John Newton)
Paul's experience is also the experience and teaching of the most godly men in church history, including men like Calvin, Luther, John Owen (the great Puritan theologian), Jonathan Edwards (the greatest American theologian), Charles Simeon, J. C. Ryle, Charles Spurgeon, Martyn Lloyd-Jones and many others all taught the ongoing depravity of the human heart, even after conversion. This same experience (an increasing awareness of one's sinfulness) has also been part of every revival in church history. In his book entitled Revival, Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones emphasizes that…
there has never yet been a revival of religion, but that the moment that God’s people have this experience, though they may have been Christians for years and years, they feel utterly unworthy, they see themselves as sinners as they have never done before. Some of them have even doubted whether they have ever been Christians. They are wrong, of course, but the sight of the holiness of God, the realisation of it, has made them see nothing but their own sinfulness and their own unworthiness. It is invariable.
Saints (40) (hagios [word study]) is literally holy one and refers to that which is set apart (sanctified) from profane or common purposes and for a special purpose. Hagios describes every saint's position in Christ -- set apart from that which is secular, profane, and evil and on the other hand dedicated to worship and service of God (see purpose in 2Ti 2:21). We are holy ones both in character and conduct set apart by God to be exclusively His, dedicated to Him and manifesting holiness of heart and conduct.
Hagios was used throughout the NT to speak of anyone or anything that represents God’s holiness: Christ as the Holy One of God, the Holy Spirit, the Holy Father, holy Scriptures, holy angels, holy brethren, and so on.
The Gentiles understood this term because among the pagans, hagios signified separated and dedicated to the idolatrous gods and carried no idea of moral or spiritual purity. The manmade gods were as sinful and degraded as the men who made them and there simply was no need for a word that represented righteousness! The worshipper of the pagan god acquired the character of that pagan god and the religious ceremonies connected with its worship. The Greek temple at Corinth housed a large number of harlots who were connected with the "worship" of the Greek god. Thus, the set-apartness or holiness of the Greek worshipper was in character licentious, totally depraved, and sinful.
If ever we are privileged to preach or to teach the message of the love of God or to do anything for Jesus Christ, we must always remember that our greatness lies not in ourselves but in our task and in our message. Toscanini was one of the greatest orchestral conductors in the world. Once when he was talking to an orchestra when he was preparing to play one of Beethoven’s symphonies with them he said:“Gentlemen, I am nothing; you are nothing; Beethoven is everything.”
He knew well that his duty was not to draw attention to himself or to his orchestra but to obliterate himself and his orchestra and let Beethoven flow through.
Leslie Weatherhead tells of a talk he had with a public schoolboy who had decided to enter the ministry of the Church. He asked him when he had come to his decision, and the lad said he had been moved to make it after a certain service in the school chapel. Weatherhead very naturally asked who the preacher had been, and the lad answered that he had no idea; he only knew that Jesus Christ had spoken to him that morning. That was true preaching.
The tragic fact is that there are so many who are more concerned with their own prestige than with the prestige of Jesus Christ; and who are more concerned that they should be noticed than that Christ should be seen. (Ephesians 3 Commentary
THIS GRACE WAS GIVEN: edothe (3SAPI) e charis aute:
- 1 Chronicles 17:16; 29:14,15; Acts 5:41; Romans 15:15, 16, 17
- Ephesians 3 Resources - Multiple Sermons and Commentaries
- Ephesians 3:8 The Unsearchable Riches of Christ - Steven Cole
- Ephesians 3:9-13 God's Eternal Purpose and You - Steven Cole
- Ephesians 3:7-13 The Mystery Revealed, Part 3 - John MacArthur
This grace was given - Even this phrase implies grace is a gift. If it's given, it's not earned or merited!
Grace (5485) (charis [word study]) in simple terms is God's unmerited favor and supernatural enablement and empowerment for salvation and for daily sanctification. Grace is everything for nothing to those who don't deserve anything. Jowett defined grace as "holy love on the move".
1Cor 15:10-note But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.
Note that Paul uses charis 12 times in Ephesians (compare 24 times in the 16 chapter epistle to the Romans) - Eph. 1:2, 6, 7; 2:5, 7, 8; 3:2, 7, 8; 4:7, 29; 6:24. Note especially the 2 other uses in this same chapter…
Ephesians 3:2-note if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace which was given to me for you;
Comment: John Eadie writes of charis in Eph 3:2 - "The idea is either that the oikonomia (stewardship) had its origin in that charis, or rather that the chariswas its characteristic element. That grace was given him, not that he might enjoy it as a private luxury, but that he by its assistance might impart it to others—eis humas—“to you,” (cp similar use of charis/grace in Gal. 1:15, 2:9; Acts 22:21)
Ephesians 3:7-note of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God's grace which was given to me according to the working of His power.
TO PREACH TO THE GENTILES THE UNFATHOMABLE RICHES OF CHRIST: tois ethnesin euaggelisasthai (AMN) to anexichniaston ploutos tou Christou:
- Ep 3:16,19; 1:7,8; 2:7; Ps 31:19; John 1:16; Romans 11:33; 1Corinthians 1:30; 2:9; Philippians 4:19; Colossians 1:27; 2:1, 2, 3; Revelation 3:18
- Ephesians 3 Resources - Multiple Sermons and Commentaries
- Ephesians 3:8 The Unsearchable Riches of Christ - Steven Cole
- Ephesians 3:9-13 God's Eternal Purpose and You - Steven Cole
- Ephesians 3:7-13 The Mystery Revealed, Part 3 - John MacArthur
Eadie comments that "That special branch of the apostolate which was entrusted to Paul had the following end in view “to preach among the Gentiles.”… The phrase tois ethnesin (to the Gentiles) emphatic from its position, describes the special or characteristic sphere of the apostle's labours. The apostle, however, never forgot his own countrymen (the Jews). His love to his nation (Israel) was not interdicted (forbidden) by his special vocation as a missionary to the heathen world. And the staple of that good news which he proclaimed was “the unsearchable riches of Christ.” Riches (ploutos) is rightly read in the neuter. The adjective occurs in Rom. 11:33, and has its origin in the Septuagint, where it represents the Hebrew formula in Job 5:9, 9:10 and in Job 34:24 (Septuagint uses of "unsearchable"). The riches of Christ are not simply “riches of grace”—“riches of glory”—“riches of inheritance,” as Pelagius, Grotius, and Koppe are inclined to restrict them, but that treasury of spiritual blessing which is Christ's—so vast that the comprehension of its limits and the exhaustion of its contents are alike impossible. What the apostle wishes to characterize as grand in itself, or in its abundance, adaptation, and substantial permanence, he terms “riches.” The riches of Christ are the true wealth of men and nations. And those riches are “unsearchable.” Even the value of the portion already possessed cannot be told by any symbols of numeration, for such riches can have no adequate exponent or representative. Their source was in eternity, and in a love whose fervour and origin are above our ken, and whose duration shall be for ages of ages beyond compute. Their extent is boundless, and the mode in which they have been wrought out reveals a spiritual process whose results astonish and satisfy us, but whose inner springs and movements lie beyond our keenest inspection. And our appropriation of those riches, though it be a matter of consciousness, shrouds itself from our scrutiny, for it indicates the presence of the Divine Spirit in His power—a power exerted upon man, beyond resistance, but without compulsion; and in its mighty and gracious operation neither wounding his moral freedom nor impinging on his perfect and undeniable responsibility. The latest periods of time shall find these riches unimpaired, and eternity shall behold the same wealth neither worn by use nor dimmed by age, nor yet diminished by the myriads of its happy participants. (Ephesians Commentary)
We see Paul's missionary zeal in this verse, a zeal which should stimulate those of us who have been chosen, adopted, redeemed and sealed by the Spirit to carry this same message of untraceable spiritual riches of Jesus Christ to those who have not heard His glorious name.
Preach (2097) (euaggelizo/euangelizo from eu = good, well + aggéllo = proclaim, tell; English = evangelize) means to announce good news concerning something. Euaggelizo was often used in the Septuagint for preaching a glad or joyful message (cf. 1Sam. 31:9; 2Sa 1:20; 4:10) of God's kindnesses especially as they related to the promised Messianic blessings. In the NT euaggelizo was used especially of the glad tidings of the coming kingdom of God and of the salvation through Christ Jesus, the Lamb of God Who took away the sins of the world.
Note: Paul's preaching was great not because of his great oratorical skills, but because of the great grace of God that enabled him (1Co 15:10-note).
Euaggelizo/euangelizo in its original sense could be used to refer to a declaration of any kind of good news, but in the NT it (with 2 exceptions discussed below) refers especially to the glad tidings of the coming kingdom of God and of salvation obtained through Jesus Christ's death, burial and resurrection. Most of NT uses of euaggelizo are translated "preach" or "preach the gospel," whichever fits more smoothly into the context.
There are two passages that illustrate the original meaning of simply to "bring glad tidings" or "good news" of any nature…
Lk 1:19 And the angel answered and said to him (Zacharias), "I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God; and I have been sent to speak to you, and to bring you this good news. (that he would have a son, John the Baptist).
1Th 3:6 (note) But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us good news (euaggelizo) of your faith and love, and that you always think kindly of us, longing to see us just as we also long to see you
Aside from these two passages the NT uses of euaggelizo usually have the technical meaning of publishing the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Euaggelizo - 54x in 52v -
Mt. 11:5; Lk. 1:19; 2:10; 3:18; 4:18, 43; 7:22; 8:1; 9:6; 16:16; 20:1; Ac 5:42; 8:4, 12, 25, 35, 40; 10:36; 11:20; 13:32; 14:7, 15, 21; 15:35; 16:10; 17:18; Ro 1:15; 10:15; 15:20; 1Co 1:17; 9:16, 18; 15:1, 2; 2Co. 10:16; 11:7; Ga 1:8, 9, 11, 16, 23; 4:13; Ep 2:17; 3:8; 1Th 3:6; He 4:2, 6; 1Pe 1:12, 25; 4:6; Re 10:7; 14:6.
Euaggelizo - 18x in the non-apocryphal Septuagint -
1Sa 31:9; 2Sa 1:20; 4:10; 18:19, 20, 26, 31; 1 Ki. 1:42; 1 Chr. 10:9; Ps. 40:9; 68:11; 96:2; Isa. 40:9; 52:7; 60:6; 61:1; Jer. 20:15; Joel 2:32; Nah. 1:15
In the NAS, in the NT euaggelizo is translated - bring glad tidings(1), bring good news(2 - one referring to birth of John the Baptist and the other to the birth of Jesus, so that the latter would in a sense refer to "preaching the good news"), brought good news (1Thes 3:6), good news preached(2), gospel preached(4), preach(4), preach good news(1), preach the gospel(12), preached (m) (9), preached the gospel(4), preaching(8),preaching a gospel(1), preaching good news(1), preaching the gospel(4).
Gentiles (1484) (ethnos) refers to non-Jews or the heathen. When ethnos is preceded by the definite article ("the") in the Greek, it means "the nations" which is synonymous with the Gentiles marking them out as a distinct class. The Gentiles implies those who practice idolatry and are ignorant of the true God.
All of mankind can be divided into Jew and Gentile and thus "Gentile" is a synonym for anyone who is non-Jew, who is not a member of the "chosen people". The Hebrew word corresponding to Gentile is goyim. From Genesis 12 onward the majority of the Scriptures are about the Jews, with the Gentiles mentioned as they interface with the Jews. The NT does have more mention of the Gentiles after the formation of the Church, but the last book, the book of Revelation is predominantly Jewish with over 200 OT quotes or allusions to OT passages.
Johnson explains that…
Here Paul speaks of the mystery of that ministry. The divine power is measured out unto Paul, and the gift of grace has been given him to evangelize the untraced riches of Christ and to illuminate this arrangement (Ephesians 3:1-13 Dispensation of Grace)
Unfathomable (421) (anexichniastos from a = without + exichniázo = explore) means past finding out, impossible to comprehend, immeasurable, unsearchable, impossible to be traced out. The riches of Christ cannot be traced out step-by-step. The word means they cannot be tracked out (“untrackable"), that they are so vast you cannot discover their end. It suggests a labyrinth or maze.
The only other use of this word in the NT is…
Ro 11:33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!
There are 3 uses in the Septuagint (Job 5:9; 9:10; 34:24) …
Job 5:9 Who does great and unsearchable things, Wonders without number.
Job 9:10 Who does great things, unfathomable, And wondrous works without number.
Translators have used words like inexplorable, or untraceable, inexhaustible, illimitable, inscrutable, incalculable, and infinite.
Theodoret, one of the earlier church fathers, said,
And why are you preached if the riches are unsearchable? For this very thing,” he says, “I preach because they are unsearchable.
Riches (4149) (ploutos [word study] from pletho = fill) defines a plentiful supply, an abundance, plentitude. Ploutos literally describes material prosperity riches or wealth. It refers to an abundance of possessions exceeding the norm of a particular society. Figuratively, as used in this verse, ploutos describes spiritual abundance in Christ in Whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden (Col 2:3-note) When a person trusts the Lord Jesus, he immediately becomes a infinitely rich spiritually for in Christ he possesses inexhaustible treasures. We can never find that wealth apart from Christ.
Ploutos - 22x in 21v -
Matt. 13:22; Mk. 4:19; Lk. 8:14; Rom. 2:4; 9:23; 11:12, 33; 2 Co. 8:2; Eph. 1:7, 18; 2:7; 3:8, 16; Phil. 4:19; Col. 1:27; 2:2; 1 Tim. 6:17; Heb. 11:26; Jas. 5:2; Rev. 5:12; 18:17
What are the implications of this? Primarily, that Christ always enriches life. How mistaken the young man was who rejected the gospel saying, “Don’t preach Christ to me. I’ve got enough problems already.” Christ never subtracts from life; he always enriches it with untrackable riches. A corresponding implication for us is that we have a responsibility to share these riches with others. (Hughes, R. K.: Ephesians: The Mystery of the Body of Christ. Crossway Books)
In his work Meditations on Ephesians, Henry Law has these words on Ephesians 3:8…
Paul's eye continues to be fixed on his high calling to be a Minister of Christ, and on the glorious subject which it was his privilege to unfold. He speaks of himself and of his Lord. His view is twofold. When self (flesh - remove the "h" and spell it backwards!) appears, he sinks into the lowest depths of humiliation and of shame. When Jesus is discerned, his mind ascends with rapid wing to the heights of unbounded praise. Thus two points are before us. (1.) The Minister as viewed by himself. (2.) Jesus as a treasury of celestial gifts.
(1.) Paul calls upon His followers to be clothed with humility.
He here shows that this was the clothing in which he was clad. He appears as the follower of Jesus, who was meek and lowly in heart. Humility is indeed a precious grace. It thrives not in nature's rank soil. The heathen had no term to depict it. How could they speak of that which to them was utterly unknown! It is a grace which the Spirit deeply implants, when He reveals the misery and filth of indwelling sin. It grows with the growth of faith, and ripens as the celestial home is approached. Paul is a notable example. With what shame he viewed himself when writing to the Corinthians! He says, "I am not meet to be called an Apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God." When writing to the Romans he humbles himself as the very bond-slave of iniquity. He states that when he would do good evil was present with him. He finds a law in his members bringing him into captivity to the law of sin which was in his members. In the passage before us he gives precedence to all the people of God, and by invention of a new word in language, he calls himself "less than the least of all saints." Can he sink lower in self-estimation? When his long career of service had reached its close he casts his eye along his life of labor, and humbly bewails that of sinners he is the chief. Far be from us the thought that he did not recognize God's gracious work within. He truly felt, by the grace of God he was what he was, and with ascending step he pressed toward the mark for the prize of his high calling in Christ Jesus. His was no mock humility. He did not disparage self that he might win applause. But the more the light of heaven shone inwardly, the more it revealed the continuance and the vileness of inbred corruption. The more he knew God the more he loathed himself. The branch laden with abundance of fruit bends beneath the load. The barren twigs shoot upwards. Thus Paul deeply felt and humbly avowed that he was less than the least of all saints.
(2.) From these depths of humility he uplifts his eyes to Christ.
He strives to behold unsearchable riches. What an object here meets our gaze! We approach hallowed ground. Let us take off earthly sandals and approach with hallowed minds. Angels veil their faces when they contemplate the heavenly glory. Into what abasement and reverence should we poor sinners sink! But we are bid to search the field in which Christ the boundless treasure is hid. He is indeed a treasure-house in which all-surpassing wealth is amassed. (Col 2:3-note) Who can measure the infinitudes of thought contained in the revelation, "In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily!" (Col 2:9-note) He is great as God can be, He is Jehovah's Fellow; co-equal, co-eternal with the Father—God of God—Light of light—very God of very God. Mark the attributes which are revealed to us. His power is omnipotence. His wisdom is omniscience. His presence—it is everywhere—without center, without circumference. Vain is the imagination which strives to embrace such object—vain the utterance, which would venture to depict it! These riches are indeed unsearchable.
But He takes the manhood into God. He humbles Himself and becomes bone of our bones, and flesh of our flesh. What motive urges Him to such condescension? It is zeal for His Father's glory, and love for sinners of our vile race. Behold again these marvelous riches! They are verily unsearchable. Shall we think of the merits of His cleansing blood, which obliterates forever the crimson-dye of our iniquity—the beauteous robe of perfect righteousness in which He decks His bride, and presents her faultless in the courts of heaven (1Co 1:30, 2Co 5:21, Ro 3:24-note)? Shall we speak of His prevailing prayers which solicit and obtain all the blessings which heaven can bestow? (He 7:25-note, Ro 8:34-note) Shall we speak of His coming glory? (Mt 24:30, Rev 1:7, Rev 19:11ff-note) Vision indeed is dazzled. We can only exclaim, The riches of Christ are unsearchable. But though the search can never reach an end, for while upon earth we can only see through a glass darkly (1Cor 13:12), we should daily strive to advance more and more in the pursuit—to dig more deeply in this field—to draw water more and more from these unfathomable wells (Php 3:13-note, Php 3:14-note). Let too the truth be devoutly pondered that all that Christ is, is for His people—all His possessions are for them—His riches are their inheritance (1Co 2:9, Re 3:21-note, Ro 8:17-note). True is His Word in supplication to the Father, "The glory which You gave Me I have given them." (Jn 17:22) He reveals that His Gospel is for them—that the love with which the Father loved Him, may be in them, and He in them (Jn 17:25, 26). Such is the subject which Paul was called to preach unto the Gentiles, and which the faithful Pastor is privileged to unfold unto his flock. What a subject is here before us! How vast—how boundless—how limitless—how inconceivable—how inexhaustible—how infinite! Let it not then be thought that matter for the pulpit is scanty and barren. Let not the preacher speak of littleness—of frivolity—of earthly speculations. Let him preach Christ—Christ only—Christ fully.
The theme will be ever new. Hearers will never weary. They will be cheered, and gladdened, and saved.
The unsearchable riches of Christ!
There is everything in Christ to encourage the greatest sinners to believe on Him, to rest and lean upon Him for all happiness and blessedness. Christ is …
the greatest good,
the choicest good,
the chief good,
the most suitable good,
the most necessary good;
a pure good,
a real good,
a total good,
an eternal good,
a soul-satisfying good!
Sinners, are you poor? Christ has gold to enrich you.
Are you naked? Christ has royal robes, and white clothing to clothe you.
Are you blind? Christ has eye-salve to enlighten you.
Are you hungry? Christ will be manna to feed you.
Are you thirsty? He will be a well of living water to refresh you.
Are you wounded? He has a balm under his wings to heal you.
Are you sick? He is a physician to cure you.
Are you prisoners? He has laid down a ransom for you.
Unfathomable Riches -
A. T. Pierson was powerful preacher, educator, and missionary statesman at the turn of the 20th Century. He once tried to preach on God’s blessings as described in Ephesians 1-3, a section of Scripture that continually talks about our unsearchable wealth and riches in Christ. Pierson said:
In the words of the text, “the unsearchable riches of Christ,” “unsearchable” literally means riches that can never be explored. You not only cannot count or measure them, but you can form no estimate of them; and you not only can form no estimate of them, but you never can get to the end of your investigation. There is a boundless continent, a world, a universe of riches, that still lies before you, when you have carried your search to the limits of possibility. I feel as though I had a theme, about which no man ought to speak. An archangel’s tongue could do no justice to it.
Pierson nevertheless tried to point out the truths about the believer’s wealth as described in these three chapters. Then he told his congregation:
I sink back exhausted, in the vain attempt to set before this congregation the greatest mystery of grace that I ever grappled with. I cannot remember, in thirty years of Gospel preaching, ever to have been confronted with a theme that more baffled every outreach of thought and every possibility of utterance than the theme that I have now attempted in the name of God to present.
Blaikie expresses it well:
Two attractive words, riches and unsearchable, conveying the idea of the things that are most precious being infinitely abundant. Usually precious things are rare; their very rarity increases their price; but here that which is most precious is also boundless—riches of compassion and love, of merit, of sanctifying, comforting and transforming power, all without limit, and capable of satisfy (Blaikie, W G: Ephesians in The Pulpit Commentary. Ages Software)
From Rags To Riches-During the Great Depression, a man named Mr. Yates owned a huge piece of land in Texas where he raised sheep. Financial problems had brought him to the brink of bankruptcy. Then an oil company, believing there might be oil on his land, asked for permission to drill.
With nothing to lose, Mr. Yates agreed. Soon, at a shallow depth, the workmen struck the largest oil deposit found at that time on the North American continent. Overnight, Mr. Yates became a billionaire. The amazing thing, though, is that the untapped riches were there all along. He just didn't know it!
Are you a spiritual "Mr. Yates" who is unaware of the riches you already own in Christ? When Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesians, he revealed hidden treasure by preaching "the unsearchable riches of Christ" (Ephesians 3:8). His goal was to make all Christians see how wealthy they actually are (Ephesians 3:9-note).
Paul not only preached but also prayed that believers might recognize and use their spiritual wealth, that they would be strengthened within, established in love, powerful in prayer, and filled with God Himself.
Read Ep 3:14, 15-note, Ep 3:16, 17-note, Ep 3:18, 19-note, Ep 3:20, 21-note again, and claim your unlimited spiritual resources today. --J E Yoder (Our Daily Bread, Copyright RBC Ministries, Grand Rapids, MI. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved)
Why do we live like paupers,
When riches we possess?
We have become joint heirs with Christ
With blessings measureless. --Sper
To be rich in God is far better than to be rich in goods.
He Has What We Need- What makes the gospel such good news? Paul summarized it in Ephesians 3:8 as "the unsearchable riches of Christ." Those who receive the living Christ into their lives are free to enjoy His spiritual riches. But are we using all that He has given to us?
Author Bob George has observed that it's possible for a Christian to live as a "practical atheist." That's a person who, despite right doctrine, "approaches life as if he were the only resource available." Such an approach is as unnecessary and impractical as buying a powerful car and then pushing it.
The apostle Paul's passion for the Ephesian believers was that they might realize that all their needs could be met by Christ's resources. He prayed for them and asked God the Father to give them spiritual strength, close fellowship with Christ, and better understanding of His love for them, resulting in greater Christlikeness (Ep 3:16, 17-note,Ep 3:18, 19-note). He prayed because he believed our God is able to do "exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think" (Ep 3:20, 21-note).
Are you enjoying Christ's treasures? Or are you pushing on in your own strength? Paul's prayer gives us reason to be thankful. God has everything we need. --J E Yoder (Our Daily Bread, Copyright RBC Ministries, Grand Rapids, MI. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved)
Empty hands I lifted heavenward,
And He filled them with a store
Of His own transcendent riches
Till my hands could hold no more. --Nicholson
God wants to be everything to every one of us at every moment.
C H Spurgeon's devotionals from Morning and Evening on Ephesians 3:8…
The apostle Paul felt it a great privilege to be allowed to preach the gospel. He did not look upon his calling as a drudgery, but he entered upon it with intense delight. Yet while Paul was thus thankful for his office, his success in it greatly humbled him. The fuller a vessel becomes, the deeper it sinks in the water. Idlers may indulge a fond conceit of their abilities, because they are untried; but the earnest worker soon learns his own weakness. If you seek humility, try hard work; if you would know your nothingness, attempt some great thing for Jesus. If you would feel how utterly powerless you are apart from the living God, attempt especially the great work of proclaiming the unsearchable riches of Christ, and you will know, as you never knew before, what a weak unworthy thing you are. Although the apostle thus knew and confessed his weakness, he was never perplexed as to the subject of his ministry. From his first sermon to his last, Paul preached Christ, and nothing but Christ. He lifted up the cross, and extolled the Son of God who bled thereon. Follow his example in all your personal efforts to spread the glad tidings of salvation, and let “Christ and him crucified” be your ever recurring theme. The Christian should be like those lovely spring flowers which, when the sun is shining, open their golden cups, as if saying, “Fill us with thy beams!” but when the sun is hidden behind a cloud, they close their cups and droop their heads. So should the Christian feel the sweet influence of Jesus; Jesus must be his sun, and he must be the flower which yields itself to the Sun of Righteousness. Oh! to speak of Christ alone, this is the subject which is both “seed for the sower, and bread for the eater.” This is the live coal for the lip of the speaker, and the master-key to the heart of the hearer. (March 2, Evening)
--- --- ---
My Master has riches beyond the count of arithmetic, the measurement of reason, the dream of imagination, or the eloquence of words. They are unsearchable! You may look, and study, and weigh, but Jesus is a greater Saviour than you think him to be when your thoughts are at the greatest. My Lord is more ready to pardon than you to sin, more able to forgive than you to transgress. My Master is more willing to supply your wants than you are to confess them. Never tolerate low thoughts of my Lord Jesus. When you put the crown on his head, you will only crown him with silver when he deserves gold. My Master has riches of happiness to bestow upon you now. He can make you to lie down in green pastures, and lead you beside still waters. There is no music like the music of his pipe, when he is the Shepherd and you are the sheep, and you lie down at his feet. There is no love like his, neither earth nor heaven can match it. To know Christ and to be found in him—oh! this is life, this is joy, this is marrow and fatness, wine on the lees well refined. My Master does not treat his servants churlishly; he gives to them as a king giveth to a king; he gives them two heavens—a heaven below in serving him here, and a heaven above in delighting in him for ever. His unsearchable riches will be best known in eternity. He will give you on the way to heaven all you need; your place of defence shall be the munitions of rocks, your bread shall be given you, and your waters shall be sure; but it is there, there, where you shall hear the song of them that triumph, the shout of them that feast, and shall have a face-to-face view of the glorious and beloved One. The unsearchable riches of Christ! This is the tune for the minstrels of earth, and the song for the harpers of heaven. Lord, teach us more and more of Jesus, and we will tell out the good news to others. (August 22, Evening)
Whose Prisoner?- A story is told of Scottish minister Alexander Whyte, who was able to look at the bleakest situation and yet find something to be thankful for. On a dark Sunday morning when the weather was freezing, wet, and stormy, one of his deacons whispered,
“I am sure the preacher won’t be able to thank God for anything on a day like this. It’s absolutely horrible outside!”
The pastor began the service by praying,
“We thank Thee, O God, that the weather is not always like this.”
The apostle Paul also saw the best in every situation. Consider his circumstances as he wrote to the church in Ephesus while he awaited trial before the Roman emperor Nero. Most people would have concluded that he was a prisoner of Rome. But Paul saw himself as a prisoner of Christ. He thought of his hardship as an opportunity to bring the gospel to the Gentiles.
These words of Paul should challenge us:
“To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8).
Paul, a prisoner of Christ, saw himself as being given the privilege to serve God and present the “riches of Christ” to many.
Whose prisoner are we? —Albert Lee (Our Daily Bread, Copyright RBC Ministries, Grand Rapids, MI. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved)
Afflictions may test me,
They cannot destroy;
One glimpse of Thy love
Turns them all into joy. —Willett
The trials that imprison you need not limit God’s work in you.
Amplified: Also to enlighten all men and make plain to them what is the plan [regarding the Gentiles and providing for the salvation of all men] of the mystery kept hidden through the ages and concealed until now in [the mind of] God Who created all things by Christ Jesus. (Amplified Bible - Lockman)
Barclay: the privilege of enlightening all men as to what is the meaning of that secret, which was hidden from all eternity, in the God who created all things. (Westminster Press)
NET: and to enlighten everyone about the divine secret's plan--a secret that has been hidden for ages in the God who has created all things. (NET Bible)
NLT: I was chosen to explain to everyone this plan that God, the Creator of all things, had kept secret from the beginning. (NLT - Tyndale House)
Phillips: and to make plain to all men the meaning of that secret which he who created everything in Christ has kept hidden from the creation until now. (Phillips: Touchstone)
Wuest: and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which has been kept covered up from the beginning of the ages in the God who created all things,
Young's Literal: and to cause all to see what is the fellowship of the secret that hath been hid from the ages in God, who the all things did create by Jesus Christ,
AND TO BRING TO LIGHT WHAT IS THE ADMINISTRATION OF THE MYSTERY: kai photisai (AAN) [pantas] tis e oikonomia tou musteriou:
- Matthew 10:27; 28:19; Mark 16:15,16; Luke 24:47; Romans 16:26; Colossians 1:23; 2Timothy 4:17; Revelation 14:6
- Eph 3:3, 4, 5; 1:9,10; 1Timothy 3:16
- Ephesians 3 Resources - Multiple Sermons and Commentaries
- Ephesians 3:9-13 God's Eternal Purpose and You - Steven Cole
- Ephesians 3:7-13 The Mystery Revealed, Part 3 - John MacArthur
In the final few verses the Apostle speaks of the motivation of his ministry for preaching the mystery.
Bring to light (5461) (photizo from phos = light <> from phao = to shine) means to give light or to cause light to shine upon some object, in the sense of illuminating the object (see below for Eadie's description of the effect of photizo). Figuratively, it means to cause something to be fully known by revealing clearly and in some detail. It means to shed light upon or to illuminate.
BDAG (Ref) (summarized and modified) has the following meanings…
1) to function as a source of light, to shine, Rev 22:5
2) to cause to be illumined, give light to, light (up), illuminate (of the sun), Lk 11:36, 22:5, 21:23
3a) to make clear, to make known in reference to the inner life or transcendent matters and thus enlighten, enlighten, give light to, shed light upon, Jn 1:9, Eph 1:18, 3:19, He 10:32.
3b) To bring something to light or to reveal, make known what is hidden -1Co 4:5, 2Ti 1:10
Eadie comments on Paul's use of the verb photizo - The verb photizo, followed by the accusative of the thing, denotes to bring it into light; but followed by the accusative of the person, it signifies to throw light upon him—not only to teach (didasko), but to enlighten inwardly—to give spiritual apprehension (photisai). If one gaze upon a landscape as the rising sun strikes successive points, and brings them into view in every variety of tint and shade, both subjective and objective illumination is enjoyed. No wonder that in so many languages light is the emblem of knowledge. That mystery which was now placed in clear light was not discerned by the Jew, and could not have been perceived by the Gentile for the shadow which lay both on him and it. But the result of Paul's mission was, that the Jew at once saw it, and the Gentile plainly understood its scope. They were enlightened—were enabled to make a sudden discovery by the lucid and full demonstration set before them. The point on which they were instructed was this— “what is the economy of the mystery.” (Ibid)
Vine has an interesting note on the root word phos (light)…
phos (5457), akin to phao, “to give light” (from roots pha and phan, expressing “light as seen by the eye,” and, metaphorically, as “reaching the mind,” whence phaino, “to make to appear,” phaneros, “evident,” etc.); cf. English, “phosphorus” (lit., “light-bearing”).
Primarily light is a luminous emanation, probably of force, from certain bodies, which enables the eye to discern form and color. Light requires an organ adapted for its reception (Mt 6:22). Where the eye is absent, or where it has become impaired from any cause, light is useless. Man, naturally, is incapable of receiving spiritual light inasmuch as he lacks the capacity for spiritual things, 1Co 2:14. Hence believers are called ‘sons of light,’ Luke 16:8, not merely because they have received a revelation from God, but because in the New Birth they have received the spiritual capacity for it.
Apart from natural phenomena, light is used in Scripture of (a) the glory of God’s dwelling place, 1Tim. 6:16; (b) the nature of God, 1Jn 1:5; (c) the impartiality of God, Jas 1:17; (d) the favor of God, Ps 4:6; of the King, Pr 16:15; of an influential man, Job 29:24; (e) God, as the illuminator of His people, Is 60:19, 20; (f) the Lord Jesus as the illuminator of men, John 1:4, 5, 9; 3:19; 8:12; 9:5; 12:35, 36, 46; Acts 13:47; (g) the illuminating power of the Scriptures, Ps 119:105; and of the judgments and commandments of God, Is 51:4; Pr 6:23, cf. Ps.43:3; (h) the guidance of God - Job 29:3; Ps 112:4; Is 58:10; and, ironically, of the guidance of man, Ro 2:19; (i) salvation, 1Pe 2:9; (j) righteousness, Ro 13:12; 2Co 11:14, 15; 1Jn 2:9, 10; (k) witness for God, Mt 5:14, 16; Jn 5:35; (1) prosperity and general well-being, Esther 8:16; Job 18:18; Is. 58:8, 9, 10.
Photizo - 11x in 11v - Lk. 11:36; Jn. 1:9; 1 Co. 4:5; Eph. 1:18; 3:9; 2 Tim. 1:10; Heb. 6:4; 10:32; Rev. 18:1; 21:23; 22:5. The NAS translates photizo as bring to light(2), brought to light(1), enlightened(3), enlightens(1), illumine(1),illumined(2), illumines(1).
Luke 11:36 "If therefore your whole body is full of light, with no dark part in it, it shall be wholly illumined, as when the lamp illumines you with its rays."
John 1:9 There was the true light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.
1Corinthians 4:5 Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men's hearts; and then each man's praise will come to him from God.
Ephesians 1:18-note I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints,
Eadie commenting on photizo in this verse: The “heart” belongs to the “inner man,” is the organ of perception as well as of emotion; the centre of spiritual as it is physically of animal life… The verb photizo, used in such a relation, has a deep ethical meaning. Light and life seem to be associated in it—as, on the other hand, darkness and death are in Hebrew modes of conception. Thus Ps 13:3, 36:9; Jn 1:4, 8:12. The light that falls upon the eyes of the heart is the light of spiritual life—there being appreciation as well as perception, experience along with apprehension. Matt. 13:15; Mark 6:52; John 12:40. The figure is common too among classical writers. If the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of God (Ep 1:17) be conferred, then the scales fall from the moral vision, and the cloudy haze that hovers around it melts away. It is as if a man were taken during night to a lofty eminence shrouded in vapor and darkness, but morning breaks, the sun rises, the mist departs, rolls into curling wreaths and disappears, and the bright landscape unfolds itself. Such is the result, and the design, is that they may obtain a view of three special truths (in Eph 1:18, 19a).
Ephesians 3:9-note and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God, who created all things;
2 Timothy 1:10-note but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,
Hebrews 6:4-note For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit,
Hebrews 10:32-note But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings,
Revelation 18:1-note After these things I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was illumined with his glory.
Revelation 21:23-note And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb.
Revelation 22:5-note And there shall no longer be any night; and they shall not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God shall illumine them; and they shall reign forever and ever.
There are 26 uses of photizo in the non-apocryphal Septuagint (LXX) - Exod. 37:17; Num. 4:9; 8:2; 1 Sam. 29:10; 2 Ki. 12:2; 17:27f; Ezr. 2:63; 9:8; Neh. 7:65; 9:12, 19; Ps. 13:3; 18:28; 19:8; 34:5; 76:4; 105:39; 119:130; 139:12; Prov. 4:18; Eccl. 8:1; Isa. 60:1, 19; Dan. 4:11; Hos. 10:12; Mic. 7:8. Below are some of the "enlightening" uses of photizo in the Old Testament…
Ezra 9:8 "But now for a brief moment grace has been shown from the LORD our God, to leave us an escaped remnant and to give us a peg in His holy place, that our God may enlighten (Lxx = photizo) our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our bondage. (Beloved, read this awesome, majestic, doctrinally rich verse again and be blessed!)
Nehemiah 9:12 "And with a pillar of cloud Thou didst lead them by day, and with a pillar of fire by night to light (Lxx = photizo) for them the way In which they were to go.
Nehemiah 9:19 Thou, in Thy great compassion, Didst not forsake them in the wilderness; The pillar of cloud did not leave them by day, To guide them on their way, nor the pillar of fire by night, to light (Lxx = photizo) for them the way in which they were to go.
Psalm 13:3 Consider (imperative - now this is approaching God's throne with confidence and boldness!) and answer (imperative) me, O LORD, my God; Enlighten (Lxx = photizo = imperative in both Hebrew and Greek) my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
Comment: What an incredibly bold prayer! What a needful prayer for all God's saints. Spurgeon eloquently exposits this verse…
Consider and hear me. He remembers at once the root of his woe, and cries aloud that it may be removed. The final absence of God is Tophet's fire, and his temporary absence brings his people into the very suburbs of hell. God is here entreated to see and hear, that so he may be doubly moved to pity. What should we do if we had no God to turn to in the hour of wretchedness?
Note the cry of faith, O Lord MY God! Is it not a very glorious fact that our interest in our God is not destroyed by all our trials and sorrows? We may lose our gourds, but not our God. The title deed of heaven is not written in the sand, but in eternal brass.
Lighten mine eyes: that is, let the eye of my faith be clear, that I may see my God in the dark; let my eye of watchfulness be wide open, lest I be entrapped, and let the eye of my understanding be illuminated to see the right way. Perhaps, too, here is an allusion to that cheering of the spirits so frequently called the enlightening of the eyes because it causes the face to brighten, and the eyes to sparkle. Well may we use the prayer, "Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord!" for in many respects we need the Holy Spirit's illuminating rays. (Amen!)
Lest I sleep the sleep of death. Darkness engenders sleep, and despondency is not slow in making the eyes heavy. From this faintness and dimness of vision, caused by despair, there is but a step to the iron sleep of death. David feared that his trials would end his life, and he rightly uses his fear as an argument with God in prayer; for deep distress has in it a kind of claim upon compassion, not a claim of right, but a plea which has power with grace. Under the pressure of heart sorrow, the psalmist does not look forward to the sleep of death with hope and joy, as assured believers do, but he shrinks from it with dread, from which we gather that bondage from fear of death is no new thing.
Psalm 18:28 For Thou dost light my lamp; The LORD my God illumines (Lxx = photizo) my darkness.
Spurgeon: For thou wilt light my candle. Even the children of the day sometimes need candlelight. In the darkest hour light will arise; a candle shall be lit, it will be comfort such as we may fittingly use without dishonesty -- it will be our own candle; yet God himself will find the holy fire with which the candle shall burn; our evidences are our own, but their comfortable light is from above. Candles which are lit by God the devil cannot blow out. All candles are not shining, and so there are some graces which yield no present comfort; but it is well to have candles which may by and by be lit, and it is well to possess graces which may yet afford us cheering evidences. The metaphor of the whole verse is founded upon the dolorous nature of darkness and the delightfulness of light; "truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun;" and even so the presence of the Lord removes all the gloom of sorrow, and enables the believer to rejoice with exceeding great joy. The lighting of the lamp is a cheerful moment in the winter's evening, but the lifting up of the light of God's countenance is happier far. It is said that the poor in Egypt will stint themselves of bread to buy oil for the lamp, so that they may not sit in darkness; we could well afford to part with all earthly comforts if the light of God's love could but constantly gladden our souls.
Psalm 19:8 The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening (Lxx = photizo) the eyes.
Spurgeon: The commandment of the Lord is pure. No mixture of error defiles it, no stain of sin pollutes it; it is the unadulterated milk, the undiluted wine.
Enlightening the eyes, purging away by its own purity the earthly grossness which mars the intellectual discernment: whether the eye be dim with sorrow or with sin, the Scripture is a skilful oculist, and makes the eye clear and bright. Look at the sun and it puts out your eyes, look at the more than sunlight of Revelation and it enlightens them; the purity of snow causes snow blindness to the Alpine traveller, but the purity of God's truth has the contrary effect, and cures the natural blindness of the soul. It is well again to observe the gradation; the convert becomes a disciple and next a rejoicing soul, he now obtains a discerning eye and as a spiritual man discerns (judges, appraises) all things, though he himself is discerned of no man (cp 1Co 2:15)
Psalm 34:5 They looked to Him and were radiant (Young's Literal = "they became bright", Lxx = Photizo = is in the imperative so reads "be enlightened"), And their faces shall never be ashamed.
Spurgeon: They looked unto him, and were lightened. The psalmist avows that his case was not at all peculiar, it was matched in the lives of all the faithful; they too, each one of them on looking to their Lord were brightened up, their faces began to shine, their spirits were uplifted. What a means of blessing one look at the Lord may be! There is life, light, liberty, love, everything in fact, in a look at the crucified One. (Isa 45:22KJV = the verse that the Spirit of God used to save Spurgeon! see C.H.Spurgeon's Testimony) Never did a sore heart look in vain to the good Physician; never a dying soul turned its darkening eye to the brazen serpent to find its virtue gone. And their faces were not ashamed. Their faces were covered with joy but not with blushes. He who trusts in God has no need to be ashamed of his confidence, time and eternity will both justify his reliance.
Psalm 119:130 The unfolding (Lxx = delosis = a pointing out, manifestation, explaining, showing, revelation, interpretation) of Thy words gives light (enlighteneth; Lxx = photizo); It gives understanding to the simple.
Spurgeon: The entrance of thy words giveth light. No sooner do they (God's Words) gain admission into the soul than they enlighten it: what light may be expected from their prolonged indwelling! Their very entrance floods the mind with instruction for they are so full, so clear; but, on the other hand, there must be such an "entrance," or there will be no illumination. The mere hearing of the word with the external car is of small value by itself (Jas 1:22-note), but when the words of God enter into the chambers of the heart then light is scattered on all sides. The Word finds no entrance into some minds because they are blocked up with self conceit, or prejudice, or indifference; but where due attention is given, divine illumination must surely follow upon a knowledge of the mind of God.
Oh, that Thy words, like the beams of the sun, may enter through the window of my understanding, and dispel the darkness of my mind!
It giveth understanding unto the simple. The sincere and candid are the true disciples of the word. To such it gives not only knowledge, but understanding. These simple hearted ones are frequently despised, and their simplicity has another meaning infused into it, so as to be made the theme of ridicule; but what matters it? Those whom the world dubs as fools are among the truly wise if they are taught of God. What a divine power rests in the word of God, since it not only bestows light, but gives that very mental eye by which the light is received -- "It giveth understanding." Hence the value of the words of God to the simple, who cannot receive mysterious truth unless their minds are aided to see it and prepared to grasp it.
Ecclesiastes 8:1 Who is like the wise man and who knows the interpretation of a matter? A man's wisdom illumines (Lxx = photizo) him and causes his stern face to beam.
Micah 7:8 Do not rejoice over me, O my enemy. Though I fall I will rise; Though I dwell in darkness, the LORD is a light (Lxx = photizo) for me.
The administration - Note that the KJV (Eph 3:9KJV) translates this phrase as "the fellowship" because the Greek manuscript used to translate the KJV has the word koinonia (2842), while the more accepted modern manuscripts have the Greek word oikonomia (3622) which is translated administration ("plan" in the NET - see below).
The respected Scottish expositor John Eadie has this (somewhat technical) explanatory note regarding the differences in the Greek manuscripts “what is the economy of the mystery.” That oikonomia (NAS) should supersede the gloss koinonia of the Elzevir text (KJV) is established by the concurrent authority of A, B, C, D, E, F, G, J, supported by a host of the Fathers and by the early versions. The preaching of Paul enabled all to see “what is the arrangement or organization of that mystery which, from the beginning of the world, had been hid in God.”… The mystery must be the same as that described in Eph 3:6, for the same course of thought is still pursued, and varied only by the repetition. That mystery now so open had been long sealed. (Ephesians Commentary 3 - online)
Albert Barnes - Instead of fellowship here (koinonia) most manuscripts and versions read (oikonomia) dispensation. (Ephesians - Chapter 3 - Barnes' Notes on the New Testament)
NET Bible Notes states that this verse could be translated…
“what is the plan of the divine secret.” Earlier the author had used oikonomia (here “plan” - see NET below) to refer to his own stewardship (Ep 3:2). But now he is speaking about the content of this secret, not his own activity in relation to it. (Biblical Studies Press. The NET Bible Notes)
and to enlighten everyone about God's secret plan– a secret that has been hidden for ages in God who has created all things. (NET Bible)
Administration (see preceding note) (3622) (oikonomia [word study] from oíkos = house + némo = manage, distribute) (See study of related word oikonomos) in secular Greek referred literally to the management of a household by the oikonomos, the steward, the one who managed the house and was accountable to the owner (including the necessity to present to the owner the management records, receipts, disbursements, cash on hand and the settlement of accounts). Our English words "economy" and "economic" are derived from oikonomia and this usage in secular Greek helps one see the association. Oikonomia indicates the task given to responsible and faithful servants who were appointed over the economy or an area of responsibility in the household. Thus oikonomia stresses obligation, responsibility, and faithfulness of the servant to his master in carry out the entrusted task.
Wuest - It was given to Paul to bring to light the arrangement, the way this mystery was administered, namely, the admission of the Gentiles on equal terms with the Jews… This mystery was formed before the ages of time began, and kept secret since they started “Through Jesus Christ” is a rejected reading.
Charles Ellicott notes that dispensation refers to "the mystery (the union of Jews and Gentiles in Christ, Ep 3:6), which was to be humbly traced and acknowledged in the fact of its having secretly existed in the primal counsels of God, and now having been revealed to the heavenly powers by means of the Church. (St. Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians)
Mystery (3466) (musterion from mustes = one initiated [as into the Greco-Roman religious "mystery" cults] from mueo = to close or shut) (Click word study on musterion) as used in classical Greek conveyed the idea of silence in the rites of the "mystery" religions so common in the Greco-Roman Empire. Musterion referred to religious secrets which were confided only to the initiated. Thus in Paul's day, musterion embrace ideas such as "a secret rite," "secret teaching," and "a divine mystery which is beyond human comprehension." The "mystery-religions" had their secrets and signs as modern secret societies have today. Those initiated into these pagan cults, knew these secret signs.
Musterion - 28x in 28v - The NAS renders musterion as mysteries(5), mystery(22).
Matt. 13:11; Mk. 4:11; Lk. 8:10; Rom. 11:25; 16:25; 1 Co. 2:1, 7; 4:1; 13:2; 14:2; 15:51; Eph. 1:9; 3:3f, 9; 5:32; 6:19; Col. 1:26f; 2:2; 4:3; 2 Thess. 2:7; 1 Tim. 3:9, 16; Rev. 1:20; 10:7; 17:5, 7.
Musterion in Scripture takes on a completely different meaning and does not refer to truths know only to a select, initiated few but in contrast was is a previously hidden purpose of God which when uncovered is understood by the Spirit-taught believer. In other words musterion signifies those truths which are part of God's plan and can only be understood as He reveals them by His Spirit through His Word. Musterion is a truth which without special revelation would have been unknown and thus is commonly used with words denoting revelation or knowledge (e.g., "to know the mysteries", (Mt 13:11), "revelation of the mystery", (Ro 16:25-note) or "made known… the mystery", Eph 3:3-note)
The secret counsels of God remain hidden from the ungodly (to them they are a true "mystery" as the word is commonly used in English) but when these truths are revealed to the godly, they are understood by them. The mystery is not in the fact that the truths are difficult to interpret, but that they are impossible to interpret until their meaning is revealed at which time the truth becomes plain.
Mysteries in the Scripture fall into two categories. Some have already been revealed, and among these are the incarnation of Christ and the salvation of sinners. Others are yet to be seen, such as the general resurrection, the coming Antichrist, and the evil of the last day. It is comforting to realize that all the mysteries which bear on our salvation are already revealed to readers of Scripture.
Vincent defines musterion as that "which was kept hidden from the world until revealed at the appointed time, and which is a secret to ordinary eyes, but is made known by divine revelation." (Vincent, M. R. Word studies in the New Testament. Vol. 4, Page 234-235).
MacArthur adds that "musterion does not carry the connotation that word has in modern English, as used, for example, of a mystery novel. In the New Testament it refers to something hidden in former times but now made known. Specifically, it refers to a part of God’s truth that was not revealed, or was only partially revealed, in the Old Testament." (MacArthur, J: Romans 1-8. Chicago: Moody Press)
Unger says that "The NT use of the term “mystery” has reference to some operation or plan of God hitherto unrevealed. It does not carry the idea of a secret to be withheld, but of one to be published… The term mystery, moreover, comprehends not only a previously hidden truth, presently divulged, but one that contains a supernatural element that still remains in spite of the revelation." (Unger, M. F., Harrison, R. K., Vos, H. F., Barber, C. J., & Unger, M. F. The New Unger's Bible Dictionary. Chicago: Moody Press)
Steven Cole commenting on Eph 3:9, 10, 11 notes that…
This is not an easy topic, so track with me! I will try to explain it under five headings:
A. God has an eternal purpose and nothing can thwart it.
We saw this in Ephesians 1:9-12: “He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory.”
God’s eternal purpose is to sum up all things in Christ. He is the centerpiece of history. All of the Old Testament looks forward to Christ. All of the New Testament testifies of Him. All of history will climax when He returns in power and glory to reign. Since He is the head of His body, the church, it is central to God’s purpose. It is in the church that God is bringing together both Jews and Gentiles, reconciling them to one another and to Himself through the cross (Eph 2:11-22). Paul says (Eph 3:8) that his ministry, in addition to preaching to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, is also (Eph 3:9) “to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things.”
What does he mean? One key to understanding Paul here is to resolve why he refers to God as the one “who created all things.” If we go back to Genesis (Eph 1:26, 27), we learn that God created man as male and female to rule over creation and to reflect His image. You have to ask, “Reflect His image to whom?” There weren’t other people on the earth yet. I believe that God wanted Adam and Eve to reflect His image to “the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places,” that is, to the angels, both good and evil. Behind the scenes of human history is this cosmic spiritual battle between the forces of good and evil. God’s purpose for man (male and female) was to rule on earth and reflect His image. That purpose was temporarily thwarted by the fall, but it is being recovered by the new creation, the church (Ep 2:15).
While books have been written on what the image of God in man means, at least part of that image includes the unity and love that exists between the members of the Trinity. Thus when Paul discusses Christian marriage (Eph. 5:22-33), where husbands are to love their wives and wives are to submit to their husbands, he ties it all in to the original creation of man and woman (Eph. 5:31) and then adds (Ep 5:32), “This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.”
He is saying that Christian marriage is a smaller picture of Christ and the church, and that both marriage and the church are linked back to God’s purpose in creation, that we would rule on earth under His lordship and that we would reflect His image to the angelic hosts.
There are some further parallels to consider. Just as Eve was taken from Adam’s body in his sleep and then given back to him as his wife, so the church was brought forth through Christ’s sleep (death) and given to Him as His bride. Just as Eve was a part of Adam’s body, so the church is Christ’s body. Just as male and female together were to reflect God’s image in the original creation (Gen. 1:27), so now it is the Bridegroom (Christ) and His bride (the church) that are to reflect His image as we dwell in His love and willingly submit to Him. It is in this sense that we are His fullness (Ep 1:23) and that Paul can pray that we would be filled up to all the fullness of God (Ep 3:19), so that there will be glory to God in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations (Ep 3:21).
This is all kind of mind-bending! What Paul is doing is elevating our understanding and vision for what God is doing through the church. Stay with me!
B. God’s purpose was a mystery hidden for ages, but now brought to light through Paul.
“Mystery,” as we have seen, refers to something that was previously unknown, but now has been revealed. “The mystery of Christ” (Ep 3:4) refers to God’s eternal plan to sum up all things in Christ, the Savior (Ep 1:9, 10). But, one application of this mystery was the previously hidden aspect of God’s uniting the Jews and Gentiles on equal standing in the one body of Christ (Ep 3:6). The Old Testament predicted the salvation of many Gentiles, but it did not reveal that God would unite them as one body with the Jews in the church, seat them with Christ in the heavenly places, and display His manifold wisdom through them throughout the ages. If we ask the question, “Why did God hide this truth for thousands of years?” the answer is, “Because He so willed.” He is the Sovereign of the universe, and as the Sovereign, He has the right to do as he pleases. In Acts 14:16, Paul tells the pagans of Lystra, “In the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways.” He could have intervened much sooner and made known His way of salvation if He had chosen to do so, but He didn’t. As Paul puts it in Galatians 4:4, “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son….” God knew the right time to send His Son and He did it right on schedule. He has a purpose and nothing can thwart it. Although His purpose was hidden for ages, now it has been revealed. With Paul, we should always be amazed that we have become the objects of His grace!\
C. God’s purpose was carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord.
“Carried out” translates the Greek aorist tense of the verb, “to do.” It points to an accomplished action. God’s purpose was accomplished through Christ Jesus our Lord through His death and resurrection. It was at the cross, especially, that God demonstrated His manifold wisdom. People often wonder, why did God allow the fall of man into sin? He easily could have made man like the elect angels, so that we would not have sinned and then would be incapable of sinning.
While we need to be careful not to press the issue too far, we can say that God permitted the fall and ordained the cross because it demonstrated His wisdom and glory in a way that no other plan would have shown. God’s sending His own Son to bear the penalty that we deserve displays His wisdom, love, and justice in ways that would not have been seen otherwise. His wisdom is displayed in choosing a person who is both divine and human, because no other person could have fulfilled the role of mediator and substitute for our sin. He had to be infinitely holy and apart from all sin. He had to be a person infinitely dear to the Father, to give infinite value to His sacrifice. No created person, whether man or angel, would have been fit for this task. Only Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, qualified. (I am indebted here to Jonathan Edwards, “The Wisdom of God displayed in the way of salvation,” The Works of Jonathan Edwards [Banner of Truth], 2:142-144.)
D. God’s purpose is to make known His manifold wisdom to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.
Most of us don’t often think about the angels, but Paul brings them into the center of God’s eternal purpose! We know that the holy angels are in God’s very presence (Isa. 6:1-3). They are at war with the fallen angels (Dan. 10:13). The holy angels were especially involved in praising God at the birth of the Savior (Luke 2:13-14; Heb. 1:6). They have a special interest in the church, so that Paul tells the Corinthian women to wear long hair (or a head covering) in the assembly because of the angels (1 Cor. 11:10). They rejoice at the salvation of sinners (Luke 15:10). Throughout eternity, we will join the angels in heaven, singing praises to God because of the salvation that the Lamb secured for us (Rev. 7:9-12).
Some scholars think that Ephesians 3:10 refers only to the holy angels, some think it refers to the fallen angels, and some to both. I think it probably refers to both. (The fallen angels are referred to by the same terms in Ep 6:12; in Ep 1:21, it probably includes both.) To the fallen angels, the church, which exists because of Christ’s triumph at the cross, displays God’s wisdom and reminds them of their impending doom. The fallen angels thought that they had triumphed at the cross, but God displayed His wisdom by using that very means to gain ultimate and final victory (Col. 2:15). As for the holy angels, through the cross they “see a great and wonderful manifestation of the glory of God” (Edwards, p. 147).
Edwards points out that the happiness of angels, as well as of people, consists very much in seeing the glory of God. And, he says (ibid.), “Perhaps all God’s attributes are more gloriously manifested in this work, than in any other that ever the angels saw.” God’s mercy, grace, love, justice, and power are all magnified in the substitutionary death and bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Thus Peter tells us that the angels long to look into the matter of our salvation (1Pe 1:12).
E. God’s purpose is to make His wisdom known through the church.
F. F. Bruce (The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians [Eerdmans], pp. 321-322) says, “The church thus appears to be God’s pilot scheme for the reconciled universe of the future, the mystery of God’s will ‘to be administered in the fullness of the times,’ when ‘the things in heaven and the things on earth’ are to be brought together in Christ (Eph. 1:9, 10).” He adds that the church, created by God’s reconciling the Jews and Gentiles into one body, is God’s agency to help bring about the final reconciliation.
John MacArthur explains (The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, Ephesians [Moody Press], p. 97), “Every sinner who repents and turns to Christ adds another spiritual stone to God’s temple, another member to His Body, and becomes another forgiven and cleansed sinner who is made eternally one with every other forgiven and cleansed sinner.”
We show this wisdom of God to the principalities and powers by being the church that God created.
John Piper says (Cosmic church - Piper), We don’t usually hit targets that we are not aiming at. And the target for the church is to demonstrate to the evil powers of the cosmos that God has been wise in sending his Son to die that we might have hope and be unified in one body, the church. Therefore, when we fail to live in hope and to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, we send this signal through the galaxies: God’s purpose is failing; he was not wise, he was foolish.
Again, the overall point that Paul is driving home is to elevate our understanding of the importance of the church in God’s eternal purpose, so that we will give it the proper priority in our lives. He wants us to understand what a great privilege it is that God has chosen us to be the agents of carrying out His eternal purpose through the church. The church is not just a nice place to drop by on Sundays if you’re not doing anything more interesting! The church is God’s vehicle for making known His manifold wisdom, not only on earth, but also to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. So we must see how our lives count for eternity. (God's Eternal Purpose and You)
WHICH FOR AGES HAS BEEN HIDDEN IN GOD WHO CREATED ALL THINGS: tou apokekrummenou (RPPNSG) apo ton aionon en to theo to ta panta ktisanti, (AAPMSD):
- Eph 1:4; Matthew 13:35; 25:34; Acts 15:18; Ro 16:25; 1 Co 2:7; 2Ths 2:13; 2 Ti 1:9; Titus 1:2; 1 Pe 1:20; Rev 13:8; 17:8
- Colossians 1:26; 3:3
- Ps 33:6; Isaiah 44:24; John 1:1, 2, 3; 5:17,19; 10:30; Colossians 1:16,17; Hebrews 1:2,3; 3:3
- Ephesians 3 Resources - Multiple Sermons and Commentaries
- Ephesians 3:8 The Unsearchable Riches of Christ - Steven Cole
- Ephesians 3:9-13 God's Eternal Purpose and You - Steven Cole
- Ephesians 3:7-13 The Mystery Revealed, Part 3 - John MacArthur
Ages (165) (aion) denotes duration of time. The point is that this mystery was formed before the ages of time began, and kept secret since they started. It could be rendered “for eternity” or perhaps “from the Aeons.”
John Eadie - During this interval of four thousand years God's purpose to found a religion of universal offer, adaptation, and enjoyment, lay unrevealed in His own bosom. Glimpses of that sublime purpose might be occasionally caught, but no open or formal organization of it was made. There were hints and pre-intimations, oracles that spoke sometimes in cautious, and sometimes in bolder phrase; but till the death of Jesus, the means were not provided by which Judaism should be superseded and a world-wide system introduced. Then the Divine Hierophant (An ancient Greek priest who interpreted sacred mysteries) disclosed the mystery, after His Son had offered an atonement whose saving value had no national restrictions, and acknowledged no ethnographical impediment, and when He poured out His Spirit on believing Gentiles, and commissioned Saul of Tarsus to go far from Palestine and reclaim the heathen outcasts.
Has been hidden (613) (apokrupto form apó = from, away + krúpto = hide, conceal by covering) means to hide away from the common gaze, and therefore secret. Apokrupto is used by Paul here (and 1Cor 2:7, Col 1:26) in a figurative sense to describe knowledge that cannot be known except through divine revelation. It is used in secular Greek writings of a "hidden trade (craft or skill)".
Paul uses the perfect tense which emphasizes the longevity of the hiding of the mystery of the Church. Once again Paul is pointing out the fact that the church universal is something new, unique, unprecedented and was not known before to anyone but God. It was certainly not known in the OT, which is significant in that many commentators interpret the OT passages given to Israel as if they were given to the church. While the OT Scriptures have many applications, including application to the NT church and NT believers, there is only one valid literal interpretation and that interpretation relates to the nation of Israel and not to the NT church (see the related topic - Israel of God - Is God "Finished" with Israel in His prophetic plan?)
Apokrupto - 4x in 4v in the NT -
Luke 10:21 At that very time He rejoiced greatly in the Holy Spirit, and said, "I praise Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that Thou didst hide these things from the wise and intelligent and didst reveal them to babes. Yes, Father, for thus it was well-pleasing in Thy sight.
1Corinthians 2:7 but we speak God's wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom, which God predestined before the ages to our glory;
Ephesians 3:9 and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God, who created all things;
Colossians 1:26-note that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations; but has now been manifested to His saints (What is the mystery in this case? Col 1:27 = Christ in you, the hope or absolute certainty of future glory!)
Apokrupto is found 8x in the Septuagint (LXX) - 2 Ki. 4:27; Ps. 19:6; 119:19; Prov. 27:12; Isa. 26:20; 40:27; Jer. 32:17; Zeph. 3:5
2Kings 4:27 When she came to the man of God to the hill, she caught hold of his feet. And Gehazi came near to push her away; but the man of God said, "Let her alone, for her soul is troubled within her; and the LORD has hidden (apokrupto) it from me and has not told me."
Psalm 19:6 Its rising is from one end of the heavens, And its circuit to the other end of them; And there is nothing hidden from its heat.
Psalm 119:19 I am a stranger in the earth; Do not hide Thy commandments from me.
Proverbs 27:12 A prudent man sees evil and hides himself, The naive proceed and pay the penalty.
Isaiah 26:20 Come, my people, enter into your rooms, And close your doors behind you; Hide for a little while, Until indignation runs its course.
Isaiah 40:27 Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel, "My way is hidden from the LORD, And the justice due me escapes the notice of my God "?
As Barclay reminds us "Sometimes the history of Christianity can be presented in such a way that it sounds as if the gospel went out to the Gentiles only because the Jews would not receive it. Paul here reminds us that the salvation of the Gentiles is not an afterthought of God; the bringing of all men into his love was part of God’s eternal design. (Ephesians 3 Commentary)
Created (2936) (ktizo) means to bring something into existence or call it into being something that has not existed before. To make habitable, to people a place (as used in secular Greek). The meaning of ktizo in this context describes the founding of a place, a city or colony. In the NT ktizo is used only of God's creativity (man = Mt 19:4, 1Co 11:19, Dt 32:6, creation = Mk 13:19, Col 1:16, Re 4:11, Ex 9:18, Dt 4:32, Creator = Ro 1:25, "re-creation" of men, of his dead spirit = regeneration = Eph 2:10, 4:24, of the church = Eph 2:15).
Ktizo is found 12 times in the NT and is translated create(1), created(12), Creator(1), make(1).
Matthew 19:4 And He answered and said, "Have you not read, that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female,
Mark 13:19 "For those days will be a time of tribulation such as has not occurred since the beginning of the creation which God created, until now, and never shall.
Romans 1:25-note For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
1 Corinthians 11:9 for indeed man was not created for the woman's sake, but woman for the man's sake.
Ephesians 2:10-note For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Ephesians 2:15-note by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace,
Ephesians 3:9-note and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God, who created all things;
Ephesians 4:24-note and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.
Colossians 1:16-note For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities-- all things have been created by Him and for Him.
Colossians 3:10-note and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him
1 Timothy 4:3 men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods, which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth.
Revelation 4:11-note "Worthy art Thou, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for Thou didst create all things, and because of Thy will they existed, and were created."
Revelation 10:6-note and swore by Him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and the things in it, and the earth and the things in it, and the sea and the things in it, that there shall be delay no longer,
Ktizo is found 67 times in the non-apocryphal Septuagint (LXX) - Gen. 14:19, 22; Exod. 9:18; Lev. 16:16; Deut. 4:32; 32:6; Ps. 33:9; 51:10; 89:12, 47; 102:18; 104:30; 148:5; Prov. 8:22; Eccl. 12:1; Isa. 22:11; 45:7f; 46:11; 54:16; Jer. 31:22; Ezek. 28:13, 15; Dan. 4:1; Hos. 13:4; Amos 4:13; Hag. 2:9; Mal. 2:10. Note especially the use in Psalm 51…
All (3956) (pas) means all without exception were created by God.
F B Meyer writes the following note in "Our Daily Homily"
This chapter is parallel with Colossians 2. To the stewardship of the apostle Paul two mysteries were entrusted, with the intention that he should unravel and explain them to our race.
The mystery. — A mystery is a hidden secret. The word does not imply that there is no solution, but that the solution has not yet been communicated. God has many secrets, which unfold as the ages are ripe for them, but not before. This secret, which was hid in the Divine heart from all ages, was that the Gentiles are on an equality with the Jews in the Church. Under the old covenant they were alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise; but under the new they are fellow-heirs, fellow-members, and fellow-partakers of the blessings of the Gospel.
The stewardship of the mystery. — The apostle felt that whatever had been communicated to him was not for himself alone, but for all his fellow-disciples. Hence he was ever accounting himself a steward of the mysteries of God (1 Corinthians 4:1). This is the clue, also, to his assertion that he was a debtor to all men for Christ’s sake. What was given him was on deposit for others. See to it that you count nothing you possess or know as your own; look on all as a sacred trust.
The exercise of his stewardship. — “To preach unto the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all men know.” It is not enough to proclaim, as a herald might; we must stay with the dull of wit and slow of thought, elaborating, explaining, and insisting, till we have made them see what a Savior Jesus is, and how rich the soul may be that uses his unsearchable wealth.
In his work Meditations on Ephesians, Henry Law has these words on Ephesians 3:9…
The eyes of Paul were widely opened to his wondrous call. He deeply felt what mercies had been given unto him. He realized the blessed work committed to his diligence and care. There was a time when he was dead in trespasses and sins; but now he lives unto God. His eyes had been fast locked in darkness; but now he saw Christ in all the glories of His finished work. His heart had been hard with enmity and rebellion; but now he loved the Savior who had loved him before the world began. He realized still higher blessings. He knew that it was his privilege to testify of Jesus to a world lying in the wicked one. Not only the darkness of unregeneracy was past, but the darkness of contempt of the Gentile world. As a Jew he had regarded all other members of the human race as odious, contemptible, vile—scarce worthy of the name of men—the off-scouring of all things. But this prejudice had vanished before the revelation of Gospel-truth. He now knew that the wall of partition was broken down—that an unseen hand had rent the veil from the top to the bottom, and that the Gentiles were admitted to direct communion with God through the knowledge of His Gospel-love. He knew that God from the very stones beneath his feet could raise up children unto Abraham. He knew that all severance had ceased, and that God was the God of the circumcision through faith, and of the uncircumcision by faith. He realized the amazing grace which now commissioned him to cry unto every human being, Look unto Jesus and be saved. Flee unto Him and find refuge. Receive Him, and accept the privilege of adoption. Come unto Him, and be translated from darkness to light, and from the kingdom of Satan to the happy family of faith. He realized his station as standing between the living and the dead, that the plague might be stayed. Thus he went forth enlightened by super-abounding grace—strong in the Lord and in the power of His might—to call men everywhere to the saving Cross; "to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world has been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ."
(1.) We see Paul's estimate of his high commission. It leads to a general contemplation of all ministerial work. This is the noblest work to which the faculties of man can be devoted. It is the grandest employment which earth can witness. It is to follow closely in the footsteps of our Lord who said, "As You have sent Me into the world, even so have I also sent them." The pulpit is the highest throne on earth. No monarch has a seat so glorious, or wields a scepter of such potency. The faithful minister of Christ is called to make men see the wonders of the Gospel of God's grace—to remove scales from the benighted eyes—to cause the blind to see the wonders of redeeming love. The ministers of Christ are thus employed by God the Holy Spirit to give light to them who sit in darkness and the shadow of death—to cry in the regions of spiritual gloom, "Arise, shine, for your light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon You. Awake you that sheep, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light."
The means which the faithful pastor uses are very simple though they are omnipotent. It requires little strength to use them—but much strength goes forth from them. The statement of Paul is very clear. "We preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness; but unto those who are called, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God." The mandate is "Go you into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature." Success will surely follow. The Word of God can never go forth in vain. It shall prosper in that whereto He sends it. "Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree, and it shall be to the Lord for a name—for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off." Converts shall spring up among the grass, as willows by the water-courses. They shall fly as doves to their windows. Many an enlightened soul shall testify, I was blind, but now I see. We see then the happiness of those ministers who make the blessed Jesus and His finished work, and all the wonders of redeeming love, and the unsearchable riches of the covenant of grace their main proclamation. They are not called to elaborate new thoughts and invent another Gospel. There is woe, indeed, unto them who practice such folly, and occupy time in searching for man-wrought wisdom. The Gospel is a proclamation. All its waters flow in the broad, deep channel, "Thus says the Lord."
It is true indeed that this Gospel has existed from all eternity in the purpose of God. It originated in Christ before the world began. But now it shines forth in ineffable brightness, and men are called with open eye to view it—with open hand to receive it—with open heart to embrace it. It is not their work to fabricate a new sun, but with open eye to gaze on the Sun of righteousness, which has arisen with healing on His wings.
Paul sweetly adds when stating that the Gospel was hid in the ages past in the purposes of God, that He created all things by Jesus Christ. We learn hence that He is conjoined with the Father, as Creator of the whole human race. Hence the Ministers of the Gospel cease not their labor of love, but strive to approach every woman-born, and to cause all to hear the glad tidings of salvation. Hence, too, the fervent missionaries go forth into the dark places of the earth, calling the poor benighted heathen to cast their idols to the bats—to turn from them to serve the living and true God—to wash out all their sins in expiating blood—to hide all their iniquities beneath the covert of justifying righteousness, and to receive Jesus as all salvation and desire.
Pastor Steven Cole's sermon on Ephesians 3:8
It is my normal, weekly experience to feel overwhelmed by in-adequacy as I attempt to preach God’s Word. But when I come to a subject as vast as the unfathomable riches of Christ, I am almost paralyzed! It makes me realize how little of these immeasurable riches of Christ that I experience personally. It overwhelms me to think about what I can say on so profound a subject. So I am unusually aware that unless God anoints His Word with power, my feeble words will surely fail.
You would think that if you announced on the sign out front and in the newspaper that someone was speaking on the unfathomable riches of Christ, people would line up hours before the services, waiting to get in. “Free eternal riches will be given out at Flagstaff Christian Fellowship! Come and get all that you can!” But, as far as I know, no one had to wait in line to get in the door.
Even among the Lord’s people, some had “more important” things to do today than to come and explore more deeply the unfathomable riches of Christ. Some were too tired or too busy. I hope not, but perhaps some saw the title and thought, “Ho hum! That doesn’t sound very practical! Why doesn’t he talk about more relevant things?”
Maybe Jonathan Edwards sheds some light on this when he observed (The Works of Jonathan Edwards [Banner of Truth], 2:147), “The more holy any being is, the more sweet and delightful will it be to him to behold the glory and beauty of the Supreme Being.” He was preaching on Ephesians 3:10, where Paul says that the manifold wisdom of God is now made known through the church to the angelic hosts. The angels, who are perfect in holiness, greatly delight in the manifold wisdom of God as seen in the unfathomable riches of Christ. So if the subject bores you, you had better check your heart. The glory and beauty of Jesus Christ should captivate us so that out of great joy, we sell everything in order to gain the treasure of Christ (Matt. 13:44, 45, 46).
I was going to preach on Eph 3:8-13, which are a unit, but Paul not only talks about the unfathomable riches of Christ, but also of God’s eternal purpose as it relates to the church and of two practical consequences of these mind-boggling truths. So I had to limit myself to Eph 3:8, which shows us that…
Sinners may freely partake of the unfathomable riches of Christ.
1. The unfathomable riches of Christ are offered only to sinners.
Luke 1:53 states, “He has filled the hungry with good things; and sent away the rich empty-handed.” The spiritually hungry are sinners who see their need for forgiveness. The rich see no need for salvation. Bill Gates doesn’t spend his time standing in line at the welfare office. He doesn’t need their help. If you think that you have enough righteousness on your own to get into heaven, then you will not see your need for the unfathomable riches of Christ. Three things in our text show that these riches of Christ are offered only to sinners:
A. Paul preached the gospel to the Gentiles.
The Gentiles were not godly people! The religious Jews despised them as filthy dogs. They did not obey the Jewish Law. They made up their own standards for morality, which were abominable in God’s sight. The Ephesians, as we’ve seen, were steeped in the occult, and so many of them were plagued by demons that it spawned an industry for professional exorcists (Acts 19:13, 14, 15, 16). They “worshiped” at the pagan Temple of Diana, which involved immorality with the temple prostitutes. They did a thriving business selling idols, which ignorant people bought in hopes of solving their problems. These Gentiles were about as far from the living and true God as anyone could be.
And yet, when Paul came to Ephesus and preached the unfathomable riches of Christ, so many got saved that it threatened the idol-makers’ business. The same thing happened when Paul preached the gospel to the notoriously immoral Corinthians. He wrote to them (1Co 6:9, 10, 11):
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.
Or, as he wrote to the Christians in Rome (Ro 1:16-note),
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek
In fact, the most difficult sinners to reach are religious sinners, because they do not see their desperate need. If God has opened your eyes to see that you have sinned against Him and are guilty of eternal judgment, then He offers to you the unfathomable riches of Christ in exchange for your spiritual poverty.
B. Paul saw himself as the least of all saints.
Paul coins a word that means, “I am less than the least.” This was not a mock humility on Paul’s part, but rather his honest feelings as he thought about his sinful past. In his self-righteousness, he had persecuted the church. His spiritual pride led him to think that he was doing God a favor by killing sincere, innocent believers! So, after God graciously stopped him in his tracks, Paul never got over the great mercy that God had shown to him. In 1Co 15:9, he said,
For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
Here, he sees himself as the least of all the saints. And, later in life (1Ti 1:15), he says that
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.
He uses the present tense.
The closer you draw to God and see His holiness, the more aware you become of the sinfulness of your own heart. We see this with Isaiah, who instantly became aware of his sinfulness when he saw the Lord. Job, the most righteous man on earth, repented in dust and ashes when he had his encounter with God (Job 42:6). That has been the uniform experience of every saint throughout history. The closer they are to God, the more they lament their own sinfulness. John Calvin points this out often in his writings. For example, he wrote (Calvin's Commentaries [Baker], on Psalm 32:1, p. 526),
The more eminently that any one excels in holiness, the farther he feels himself from perfect righteousness, and the more clearly he perceives that he can trust in nothing but the mercy of God alone.
The point is, the unfathomable riches of Christ are only offered to those who see themselves to be poverty-stricken sinners. The only servants that God uses are those who see that they are inadequate clay pots, but that God has put His treasure in them (2Co 2:16; 3:5; 4:7).
C. Paul could only preach Christ because God had given him grace.
As we saw last week, Paul was so overwhelmed by God’s grace that he couldn’t stop repeating himself. He mentions it in Eph 3:2-note and Eph 3:7-note, as well as here in Eph 3:8: “this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ.” Paul knew that the only reason he could preach Christ was that God had given him grace.
Paul was like the workers in Jesus’ parable (Matt. 20:1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16) who got hired late in the day. The story involved a landowner who went into the marketplace early in the day and hired some workers, agreeing to pay them a denarius for their day’s labor. Later in the morning, he hired some more, promising to give them whatever is right. He did the same thing in the early and mid-afternoon. Finally, an hour before quitting time, he hired some others.
When it came time to pay the workers, those who were hired at the last hour were paid a denarius. Those who had worked all day thought that they would get more, but they just got the denarius that the owner had promised them. When they grumbled, the owner told them that they had no right to grumble. He gave them what he had agreed on. But, if he wanted to be generous with what is his, why should they be envious?
That parable illustrates God’s grace. We wrongly start thinking that God owes it to us because of our hard work for Him. But if He owes it, it’s not grace. Grace is always undeserved. Since we did nothing to deserve it, we can’t demand it. So, if we grew up in the church and God saves us and calls us to preach His good news, it is pure grace. If we grew up in the streets as gang members and God saves us and calls us to preach, it is pure grace. As someone has well said, when we share the gospel with others, it is just one beg-gar telling another beggar where to find bread.
Before we leave this point, that the unfathomable riches of Christ are offered only to sinners, note three applications:
When you present the gospel, you must speak about sin, righteousness, and judgment.
<> If the person you are talking with is clearly broken and repentant over his sin, you don’t have to hammer it so hard. But in my experience, most people think of themselves as basically good. They think that God will let them into heaven because they aren’t as bad as the child molesters and terrorists of the world. If you tell these people that God loves them and recite John 3:16, they think, “Yes, of course, I am so loveable! But, thank you for reminding me!” But if they are not convicted of sin and do not see the absolute righteousness of God and do not fear His impending judgment on their evil thoughts, words, and deeds, then they do not see their need for the Savior. Take them to the Sermon on the Mount and show them that in God’s sight, anger is murder and lust is adultery.
<> When you pray for the lost, pray that they will come under conviction for their sin.
Unless, as Spurgeon put it, they feel the rope around their neck, they will not weep for joy when the Savior cuts it and frees them. Pray that unbelievers will read God’s Word and that the Holy Spirit will convict them of their guilt in God’s sight.
<> After you have trusted in Christ, you become a saint who is yet at the same time a sinner. Don’t lose the balance.
There is some popular, but badly unbalanced teaching on this matter. Neil Anderson’s books emphasize that as a believer, you are not a sinner, not even a sinner saved by grace. Rather, you are a saint who occasionally sins (see, Victory Over the Darkness [Regal Books], pp. 44-45; see my review Steak and Arsenic - A Review of Neil Anderson's "Victory Over the Darkness). He is rightly trying to present our new identity in Christ, but he denies what every godly person in the Bible and down through history has affirmed, that we are both saints and yet sinners. The closer we draw to God, the more we feel the tension. If we let go of either side, we are out of balance spiritually. The unfathomable riches of Christ are offered only to sinners. Second,
2. The unfathomable riches of Christ center on the person of Jesus Christ.
If we have Jesus Christ, then we have every spiritual blessing (Eph. 1:3-note). All of God’s promises are “yes” in Christ (2Co 1:20). God’s “divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence” (2Pet. 1:3-note).
Note two things:
A. The gospel is not about rules, regulations, or religious rituals, but rather about knowing Jesus Christ Himself.
Paul did not proclaim to the Gentiles the moral rules of Christianity, although there are obviously moral standards in the Bible. He didn’t proclaim to them how they could go through baptism or receive the Lord’s Supper or pray the rosary or go through any other religious ceremonies or rituals to get right with God. Rather, he proclaimed to them the good news of the unfathomable riches of Christ.
Paul himself had sought to please God by keeping all of the Jewish rituals. In fact, he prided himself in how well he observed the Jewish law (Phil. 3:5, 6-note). But he said of these things (Phil. 3:8-note), “More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.” Christianity is at its heart a matter of knowing Jesus Christ personally. If you do not know Him, then all of the religious rituals in the world will be of no value to you. You must know Christ and be growing to know Him more deeply.
B. Jesus Christ possesses in Himself unfathomable riches and He gives these riches to all that call upon Him.
Here is where I’m in way over my head! Jesus Christ is the infinite, eternal God who took on human flesh so that He could give Himself as the only satisfactory and perfect sacrifice for our sins. As Paul expresses it (2Co 8:9),
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.
The person of Christ is unfathomable, in that we can never completely get to the bottom of who He is and what He did for us on the cross. The word, unfathomable, is used only one other time in the New Testament, in Romans 11:33 (note), where Paul exclaims,
“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!”
The word is used twice in the Greek Old Testament to describe God’s unfathomable ways in His creation (Job 5:9; 9:10). One preacher compared it to a man who was tracking out the confines of what he thought to be a small lake. But he discovered that it was an arm of the ocean, and so he was confronted by the immeasurable sea (J. H. Jowett, The Passion for Souls, p. 10, cited by Francis Foulkes, Ephesians [IVP/Eerdmans], p. 97).
Riches refers to true, lasting, eternal spiritual wealth that we have in Jesus Christ. Jesus told the parable of the rich man who decided to build bigger barns to hold more wealth, but God required his soul of him that very night. Jesus said (Luke 12:21),
So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich to-ward God.
He instructed us not to lay up treasures on earth, which can and will be taken from us,
But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal (Matt 6:19-note).
The fact that Christ possesses in Himself unfathomable riches and that He gives these riches to all that call upon Him means that He can and will supply our every spiritual and personal need. He allows trials into our lives to drive us to a deeper experience of His all-sufficiency for our needs. Are we depressed? He is our joy! Are we discouraged? He is our hope! Are we troubled, anxious, or fearful? He is our peace! Are we weak? He is our strength! I could go on and on, but for sake of time, I just went through Ephesians up to where we’re at and came up with these ten needs that Christ richly supplies:
TEN NEEDS THAT CHRIST RICHLY SUPPLIES
(1) We need redemption and forgiveness; He is our redemption and the substitute for our sin penalty.
Ephesians 1:7, 8a (note): “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us.”
(2) We need love; He predestined us in love to adoption as His children.
Ephesians 1:4, 5 (note), “In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will.”
(3) We need holiness; He chose us to be holy and blameless in Him.
Although we formerly lived according to the lusts of the flesh (Ep 2:3-note), Ephesians 1:4 (note) tells us, “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him.”
(4) We need a sense of purpose; He made known to us the mystery of His will and created us in Christ for good works.
Ephesians 1:9 (note), “He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him.” And (Ep 2:10-note), “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”
(5) We need an eternal inheritance; He predestined us to obtain that inheritance in Christ.
Ephesians 1:11 says that in Him we have obtained an inheritance, while Eph 1:14 (note) adds that the Holy Spirit has been given to us as the pledge of our inheritance.
(6) We need hope; God has made us fellow-partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel (Eph 3:5-note).
If you want to read more about the unfathomable riches of Christ, read Spurgeon or Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who are far more eloquent than I am and who both experientially knew the riches of Christ far better than I do. But I hope that from this brief survey, you can see that we do not need to turn to the worldly insights of psychology to meet our deepest needs. We need to go deeper in our knowledge of the unfathomable riches of Christ for our souls.
One final thing to consider:
3. Christ invites you to come and partake freely of all that He is.
The word translated preach is literally, “to proclaim the good news.” It would not be good news to hear that Christ has unfathomable riches to offer, but you must earn them. It would not be good news to hear that you must first clean up your life to qualify for these riches. It is only good news if, as is really true, Christ offers these riches freely to all that call upon Him. He invites sinners (Matt. 11:28),
Come (functions as an imperative) to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.
He promised (John 6:37),
All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.
Will you come to Christ?
It would be unthinkably foolish to hear that a treasure is avail-able for the taking, but to say, “Sorry, I’m too busy!” It would be an insult if a wealthy man sent his limousine to bring a hungry beggar to his lavish banquet, and the beggar said, “I can’t come until I can pay for it.”
Christ offers Himself freely to every sinner. He has unfathomable riches to bestow on you for the asking. Come to Him and begin to enjoy the treasure that you will go on discovering more of throughout all eternity!
Thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt, and the Lord thy God redeemed thee.
Late in life, a pastor friend noticed that Newton was showing signs of old age and urged him to stop preaching and take life easy.
“What!” he replied, “shall the old African blasphemer stop while he can speak at all?”
He wrote his own epitaph:
John Newton, clerk, once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in Africa, was by the mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the faith he had so long labored to destroy.
Late in life he said,
My memory is nearly gone; but I remember two things, that I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Savior!
(In A Frank Boreham Treasury, compiled by Peter Gunther [Moody Press], pp. 72, 77, 78.)
Newton knew that sinners may freely partake of the unfathomable riches of Christ. Do you?
Can conviction of sin and repentance come after conversion or must these things be present for conversion to take place?
Neil Anderson argues that if you see yourself as a sinner, you will sin. Thus we should see ourselves only as saints who occasionally sin. Agree/disagree? Why?
Christian psychologists argue that sometimes a Christian needs more than the Bible to help with severe emotional problems. Agree/disagree? Why?
Discuss: God permits problems in our lives to teach us more about the all-sufficiency of Christ. If true, what implications does this have for “Christian psychology”? (The Unfathomable Riches of Christ)