Bible Study Series: Ephesians - The Third Heaven Epistle
Ephesians 3:1-11 - The prisoner and his message
by I Gordon
- The prisoner of the Lord (and the persecution of believers)
- The prisoner's sole message (and what got him in trouble and why we shouldn't deviate from it)
By the end of 2021 there is estimated to be 1 billion surveillance camera's around China. No that is not a typo! So no, you aren't just imagining that someone is watching you in China. They are watching you. These cameras are now required in Churches as well. Their advanced facial recognition capabilities, combined with China's credit score system for every resident, means that those not obeying the CCP are quickly identified and punished. The Government is even bringing out their own, modified, "Bible" and placing fines on those that do not have what they say is the "correct" Bible version. As an example of their rewritten corrupted version, when the woman is caught in adultery in John chapter 8, Jesus Himself stones her for her sin! In many areas Pastors are memorizing large portions of scripture because even if imprisoned they can't remove that which is within your heart and mind. If you live outside of China, I bet you are looking forward to when they are the world's foremost power. And remember, China is only 17th on the list of Christian persecution.. Who would you think is in the top 10?3 Who do you expect is at the top?
'You can expect increasing laws to be enforced to try to encumber you as a biblical believer. The freedom of expression that we had in America, Canada and in Australia is starting to be curtailed. There are certain things you cannot talk about in public anymore. The thought control is beginning. The biblical believer will be the minority guy. The attack will include, if not lead by, the denominations. The substitutionary death of Jesus for our sins is a topic that is not comfortable from many pulpits. How many pulpits can you hear that from? A vanishing number in America. People who hold to those 'old fashioned' ideas will be continually marginalized. You have to understand how you persecute a group. First you identify that group. Then you marginalize that group. Then you vilify that group. Then you pass laws against what that group does. Finally, you simply enforce those laws. When the Gestapo broke down doors in the middle of the night and took away the head of the household they were not breaking the law - they were enforcing the law. The biblical believer has been promised persecution by our King. And it is coming. And most Christians aren't ready for that, but they need to be.'
So you see that this imprisonment was actually used by the Lord for both the evangelism of unbelievers and the strengthening of believers. In math's, if you multiply two negatives together you get a positive. But God can combine two, three, four negatives, however many you like, and still bring a positive out of them. He does it all the time! So while we should understand that the times are changing, we are to keep our eyes on the Lord and not let fear take over. So let's look at the focus of our prisoner in Ephesians 3.
There is no smell of prison in Ephesians, for Paul is not bound in spirit. He is there as the prisoner of Rome, but this he will not admit, and claims to be the prisoner of Jesus Christ. What is the secret of such victorious other-worldliness? Paul's spirit is with Christ in the heavenlies, though his body languishes in prison.
So what is on his mind?
- Firstly, he is amazed by the grace that has been shown to him - though in prison there is no sense of bitterness or 'woe is me' in his situation. He is thankful4 and positive, still amazed that God would use someone like him.
- Secondly, he is amazed by a mystery that had been hidden for a long long time... but has been revealed to him - the mystery of Christ!
None of us can help but be aware that this is an extremely troubled time in which we are living. We do not know how to solve the problems which are overwhelming us... Many writers, thoughtful, perceptive men, are sitting down and trying to analyze where we have gone wrong, and why cannot we understand what to do. Some propose one solution and some another; some are partially right, and some are almost totally wrong. But the reason they cannot grasp the answer is that they have never dealt with the heart of the problem, the great secret to all things. The key mystery is Christ, says the apostle...
"When Einstein discovered his theory of relativity, very few people grasped it or understood it. But when people began to operate on its basis, even though they didn't fully understand it, they began to change the world. Our whole modern era was brought about by the discovery of a secret which was hidden in nature until the time when Einstein stumbled upon a few hints of it. And there is much yet to be learned, even in this realm. But how much more are there great riches in store for us who will give some time and thought and effort to grasping this great secret which Paul sets forth before us here -- the ultimate secret behind all things: the mystery of Christ.
That is so true. So let's look closer at this message the prisoner of the Lord gave.
- The mystery of Godliness - God became a man in the person of Jesus! - 1Ti 3:16 Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.
- The mystery of all knowledge and wisdom being in Christ - Col 2:2-3 My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, (3) in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
- The mystery of the body of Christ - All believers, both Jews and Gentiles, are placed as equals in Him - Eph 3:6 This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.
- The mystery of the indwelling - Jesus would indwell believers! - Col 1:27 To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
- The mystery of the bride of Christ - The Church, the 'called out' ones, would be a bride for the Lord - Eph 5:31-32 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. (32) This is a profound mystery--but I am talking about Christ and the church.
- The mystery of the translation and transformation - We shall be changed into Jesus' likeness when He returns - 1Co 15:51-52 Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, (52) in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.
- The mystery of the restoring all things under Christ - Eph 1:9-10 And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, (10) to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment--to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.
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!
I'm sure you see the connection with the believer in Christ! Yet despite our riches we can think and live like those with nothing. But as the great Scottish Bible expositor Alexander MacLaren once wrote:
‘We may have as much of God as we will. Christ puts the key of the treasure-chamber into our hand, and bids us take all that we want. If a man is admitted into the bullion vault of a bank and told to help himself, and comes out with one cent, whose fault is it that he is poor?”
One of God's present purposes in connection with the mystery is to reveal His manifold wisdom to the angelic hosts of heaven. Paul again uses the metaphor of a school. God is the Teacher. The universe is the classroom. Angelic dignitaries are the students. The lesson is on “The multi-faceted wisdom of God.” The church is the object lesson. From heaven the angels are compelled to admire His unsearchable judgments and marvel at His ways past finding out. They see how God has triumphed over sin to His own glory. They see how He has sent heaven's Best for earth's worst. They see how He has redeemed His enemies at enormous cost, conquered them by love, and prepared them as a Bride for His Son. They see how He has blessed them with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies. And they see that through the work of the Lord Jesus on the cross, more glory has come to God and more blessing has come to believing Jews and Gentiles than if sin had never been allowed to enter. God has been vindicated; Christ has been exalted; Satan has been defeated; and the church has been enthroned in Christ to share His glory.
As an example, John Bunyan, the author of Pilgrim's Progress knew all about persecution in his day and wrote his masterpiece from prison. He was arrested for preaching, when not allowed by the authorities, and spent the next 12 years of his life in jail. Based on his own experiences, he included a section on Christian's and Faithful's experience in 'Vanity Fair'. Not long after their arrival in that city, they were both put on trial for not going along with the ways of that place. The judge’s name, he writes, was Lord Hate-Good and the jury had such 'good honest citizens' like 'Mr. Blind-man, Mr. No-good, Mr. Malice, Mr. Love-lust, Mr. Live-loose, Mr. Hothead, Mr. High-mind, Mr. Enmity, Mr. Liar.' Needless to say that the trial didn't go well. But again, Bunyan wrote these things based on his experience and the historical experience of the church.
It is the message that the prisoner Paul cared more about than he did his own life. And every believer will be eternally grateful that they heard and believed this message!
For some background, John MacArthur Writes: "Four of Paul's letters are grouped as the prison epistles: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. Each of them includes clear internal references to the writer's prison surroundings (Eph_3:1; Eph_4:1; Eph_6:20; Php_1:7, Php_1:13-14, Php_1:17; Col_4:3, Col_4:10, Col_4:18; Phm_1:1, Phm_1:9-10, Phm_1:13, Phm_1:23). The similarities between the details of Paul's imprisonment given in Acts and in the prison epistles support the traditional position that the letters were written from Rome. Among these details are: (1) Paul was guarded by soldiers (Act_28:16; Php_1:13-14); (2) Paul was permitted to receive visitors (Act_28:30; Php_4:18); and (3) Paul had the opportunity to preach the gospel (Act_28:31; Eph_6:18-20; Php_1:12-14; Col_4:2-4)." ↩
At the time of writing, according to Open Doors, the top 10 countries that persecute Christian believers are:
1. North Korea 2. Afghanistan 3. Somalia 4. Libya 5. Pakistan 6. Eritrea 7. Yemen 8. Iran 9. Nigeria 10. India ↩
There was a Scottish minister called 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.” I like that! Find something to be thankful for! ↩