Ephesians 3 Commentary

v.1  “Paul’s imprisonment was both a hardship and a potential embarrassment. But surprisingly, he gives little focus to his difficulty. […] Paul’s circumstances were attendant factors, but they did not define who he was. Only the gospel defined him.  Paul describes himself here as both the prisoner of Christ and a servant of the gospel; elsewhere he describes himself as a slave of Christ (Rom. 1:1). None of these titles would normally be desirable, but Paul uses them as badges of honor, expressing his allegiance to Christ. Both what he does and what happens to him are part of his service to Christ. Christ defines him, not his circumstances. If he is a prisoner, he is Christ’s prisoner.[1]

v.2  “Paul speaks of grace in ways unfamiliar to us. He says he was given responsibility for the “administration” of grace, became a servant by grace through the working of God’s power, and was given grace to preach to the Gentiles. Whereas we usually limit grace to God’s gift of salvation, this text forces us to realize that grace is also the gift of ministry. The gift always comes as a task. Grace always brings responsibility; it never is merely privilege. This was already present in 1:4, but now we are told how it worked in Paul’s life.  Paul viewed himself as a manager of grace. His ministry to the Gentiles was unique, but all Christians are to be managers of grace. All who have received grace should extend it to others (see also 4:7; esp. 1 Peter 4:10, which instructs all Christians to administer God’s grace faithfully). To receive grace is to be taken into its service. Grace connects, enlists, and empowers. It will not allow us to be passive, for it is God’s power at work in us (1 Cor. 15:10).”[2]

v.4  “In Col 1:27, the “mystery” is Christ’s residence in or among believers, giving them an expectation of future glory. Here it has to do with the inclusion of the Gentiles as those who now inherit such promises (cf. vv. 3, 6).”[3]

vv.7-8  “In 1 Corinthians 15:9, Paul referred to himself as “the least of the apostles,” while here he is “less than the least of all God’s people.” For all his sense of the privilege of being an apostle, Paul had no great sense of his ability or of a high rank. He felt he should have been rejected because he persecuted the church, but he was chosen — a choice not based on his ability, but on God’s grace. Anything he accomplished was a result of the power of God at work in him.”[4]

v.9  “Paul felt a strong responsibility to make the mystery understood (note the parallel between vv. 2 – 5 and v. 9). He wanted everyone to know the secret hidden in God but now made known, that the Gentiles are accepted by God as equals with Jewish believers. The mention of creation in verse 9 and the focus on God’s eternal purpose in verse 11 underscore the continuity between the new creation in Christ and God’s original creation and actions throughout history.”[5]

vv.10-11 “The focus in Ephesians on “the rulers and authorities” has to do with evil powers, not good angels or human institutions. This verse should thus be understood in the context of the display of God’s glory even to those who oppose him. In 1:19 – 22 and Colossians 2:15, Paul announces the defeat of the powers in Christological terms, based on the cross and resurrection. Here he does not need to repeat this announcement. Rather, he focuses on the majesty of God demonstrated in the unity of Jews and Gentiles. The church’s very existence and conduct are making known how great God’s plan of salvation is — both to people and to the powers. This gives an unparalleled importance to the church.                    “His eternal purpose” is literally the “purpose of the ages,” which connects to “for ages past” in verse 9 and to the discussion of God’s purpose in 1:9 – 11. Note the past tense “accomplished.” The “not yet” part of faith is still there, but God’s purpose has already been accomplished in Christ. What remains is an unfolding of what has already been established.”[6]

vv.16-17 “Paul’s prayer indicates God’s people should be aware of the need for the Spirit, attentive to God’s purposes and leading, at work on the interior life, and ready to be obedient. The entire letter — both the theological descriptions in the first three chapters and the ethical instruction in the last three chapters — assumes that instruction, understanding, decisions, and effort are all required for people to enjoy the work of the Spirit. The doxology in 3:20 emphasizes that God is at work in us, but implies that we need to be more aware and more expectant of his work. Ephesians 5:18 instructs us to be continually filled with the Spirit. We are responsible and active in this process. Passivity does not fit with Christian faith.”[7]

“We might say that in the breadth of its sweep, the love of Christ includes every individual of every kind in every age in every world; in the length to which it would go, the love of Christ accepted even the cross; in its depth, it descended to experience even death; in its height, he still loves us in heaven, where he lives always to make intercession for us (Hebrews 7:25).  No one is outside the love of Christ; no place is beyond its reach.”[8]

vv.20-21  “The presence of the people with God, made possible by Christ, will be a cause for eternal praise. This is what Paul had in mind in 1:18 with the expression “the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints” (see also 2:7).  In verse 19 the love of Christ is beyond understanding, and in verse 20 the activity of God is beyond expectation or thought. The heightened language throughout the prayer shows the depth of Paul’s emotion. […] This doxology sums up the intent of the first half of the letter. We should praise God for his astounding work in Christ Jesus. Paul’s point is not merely that God is able to do beyond what we expect. Rather, this power is already at work in us (cf. the similar language in Col. 1:29, which describes God’s work in Paul’s ministry). God does not fit the limitations of our expectations. The language is reminiscent of Isaiah 55:8 – 9: God’s ways and thoughts are exceedingly beyond our ways and thoughts. God is at work and eager to work in us to achieve his purposes for salvation.”[9]

“The church is not an optional part of Christianity. Rather, it is the place now and throughout eternity where God is given honor and glory. Just as Christ is the evidence of God’s redeeming love, the church is the evidence of God’s transforming and uniting power (cf. 2:7). […] So often the church demonstrates more evidence of human depravity than of God’s transforming and uniting power.”[10]


[1] Klyne Snodgrass, Ephesians, The NIV Application Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996) 166.

[2] Klyne Snodgrass, Ephesians, The NIV Application Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996) 166.

[3] Gaebelein, Frank E., Gen. Ed. Expositor’s Bible Commentary CF (Grand Rapids, MI” Zondervan, 1992)

[4] Klyne Snodgrass, Ephesians, The NIV Application Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996) 162.

[5] Klyne Snodgrass, Ephesians, The NIV Application Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996) 163.

[6] Klyne Snodgrass, Ephesians, The NIV Application Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996) 164.

[7] Klyne Snodgrass, Ephesians, The NIV Application Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996) 186.

[8] William Barclay, The Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians Daily Study Bible Series, Rev. ed. (Philadelphia:  Westminster Press, 1975) 153.

[9] Klyne Snodgrass, Ephesians, The NIV Application Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996) 183.

[10] Klyne Snodgrass, Ephesians, The NIV Application Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996) 191.

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