Dispensations or administrations are the various ordered dealings of God with men on the earth at different times. The Children of Israel in the Old Testament were in a different dispensation than we are in today. In the Millennium, inhabitants of the earth will live in a different dispensation than we are in today. Having an understanding of these changes in God's dealings is tremendously important. Our behavior as Christians is largely based on the principles that God has given to us in the present dispensation.Read more… This term “dispensation” or “administration” occurs in this chapter, for a very important reason. The identity and character of the Church which Paul has been presenting in Eph. 1-2 is entirely different than Israel under the Law. Paul brings in dispensational truth to explain that God hasn’t changed, but His economy has. God has begun something new that was kept secret in past ages, but is now been revealed. However, this new dispensation does not alter God’s original purpose to glorify Christ; rather it provides further light on how He will accomplish it.
- To define in detail the Mystery (vv.5-6); that God has brought Jews and Gentiles into a new thing (one body) with new hopes and new prospects.
- To establish Paul’s authority to teach the Mystery (vv.2-3, vv.7-9). Paul’s “manner” was to go into the synagogues of the Jews, to reason with them out of the scriptures, see Acts 17:1-3. the truth he was expounding then was from the Old Testament… but the Mystery was a secret hid in the heart of God, not made known in the Old Testament. He couldn’t point to the Old Testament for authority. Therefore, it was necessary for him to establish that he had a special dispensation from God to teach the Mystery.
- To reveal the purpose of the Mystery (vv.10-11). That it would bring glory to Christ according to God’s eternal purpose, not only in the future, but at the present time.
- What is the Mystery? (3:1-6)
- Paul’s Responsibility to Make Known the Mystery (3:7-9)
- The Present Purpose of the Mystery (3:10-11)
- The Practical Effect of Enjoying the Truth of the Mystery (3:12-13)
- 2nd Prayer: That We would See the Love of Christ Under it All (3:14-21)
- Introduction (vv.14-15)
- Step #1: Our Souls would be Continually Strengthened by the Spirit (v.16)
- Step #2: With a Deep sense of His Love, We would be Occupied with Christ (v.17)
- Step #3: We would get a Thorough Understanding of the Mystery of God (v.18)
- Step #4: We would see the Deeper Theme of Christ’s Surpassing Love Behind it (v.19a)
- Step #5: Every Need & Desire of Our Hearts will be Filled to Overflowing (v.19b)
- Doxology (vv.20-21)
What is the Mystery? (3:1-6)
The Immediate Result of Preaching the Truth: Persecution (v.1)
Paul’s Special Dispensation (vv.2-5)
The Three Cardinal Truths of the Mystery (v.6)
- Joint heirs – having the prospect of possessing the universe (the inheritance) with Christ.
- Joint body – being united together by the Spirit of God to their heavenly Head, as one living organism on earth to practically display the mind of Christ.
- Joint partakers – enjoying the promise that God has promised in Christ, eternal life (Tit. 1:2) and the Spirit (Gal. 3:14). To have the life of Christ, be indwelt with the Spirit, to know the Father and the Son, and enjoy their thoughts. This is exclusively a New Testament blessing.
We are brought into these blessings of the Mystery by receiving “the glad tidings” and being put “in Christ”. In a sense these three cardinal truths are a summary of the doctrinal part of Ephesians:
- ch.1 (joint heirs), Christ will share His inheritance with us!
- ch.2 (joint body), Christ has made us part of His body!
- ch.3 (joint partakers), Christ has brought us into a sphere of blessing unknown in Old Testament. (His promise vs. Abrahamic promises).
Paul’s Responsibility to Make Known the Mystery (3:7-9)
Two Factors that Enable the Administration of this Truth (v.7)
- The gift of the grace of God – it is God’s grace that gave Paul the privilege of making the mystery known, and it is a spirit of grace in which it must be presented.
- The working of God’s power – the power of God (the Spirit) enabled him to exercise the gift of grace. God’s gifts can only be used in God’s power.
The Proper Effect of this Truth & Responsibility on the Minister (v.8a)
8a To me, less than the least of all saints, has this grace been given, v.8 This extreme privilege that Paul was given (and which we share in a limited way) made him feel extremely humble. Note: Does knowledge always puff up (1 Cor. 8:1)? No. Only when it is held in contempt for our less-intelligent brethren. But Paul held “the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15) and as a result it actually humbled him.
Paul’s humility. When Paul realized that he had been leading the charge against Christ, he said he was “the chief of sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). When he saw that he had persecuted the Church, he said he was “the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle” (1 Cor. 15:9). But here his own failures don’t even come in. It is the eclipsing glory of God’s grace that causes him to say, “I am less than the least of all saints.”
Paul’s Twofold Commission (vv.8b-9)
- Paul’s Gospel (v.8b) – the “unsearchable riches of Christ”. The searchable riches would be the things prophesied about in the Old Testament (His coming reign, His death, etc.). The unsearchable riches are our blessings “in Christ”. The primary sphere of Paul’s labors was “among the Gentiles” (see Gal. 2:7).
- Paul’s Doctrine (v.9) – the “administration of the mystery”. It should read “all” not “all men” because the enlightening effect of Paul’s doctrine is broader to include angels (v.10). “The administration of the mystery” is a term that refers to the present economy in which Christ is building His Church, and to all the related subjects of order, unity, etc. (see note). It was “hidden in God”, not hidden in the Old Testament as covanentalists would like to say (see v.5). The administration of the mystery is essentially: how God wants His people to act and serve during the time of the mystery while the Church is being built.
|The Gospel||The Mystery|
|Romans 16:25-26||v.25a "…according to my glad tidings and the preaching of Jesus Christ…"||vv.25b-26 "…according to the revelation of the mystery, as to which silence has been kept in the times of the ages…"|
|Ephesians 3:8-9||v.8 "…that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ…"||v.9 "…And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God…"|
|Colossians 1:23-28||v.23 "…the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature..."||vv.25-26 "…according to the dispensation of God… Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations…"|
The believer's standing "in Christ":
The truth of Christ and the Church:
- Eph. 1:10 “the administration of the fullness of times” (future); i.e. the Millennium, in which Christ and the Church reign and possess the universal inheritance.
- Eph. 3:9 “the administration of the mystery” (present); i.e. God’s work of calling out believers from Jew and Gentile, Christ’s work of building them into His Church, and the Spirit’s work of uniting them as one body to their Head, and all the practical ramifications (order, unity, etc.) that flow from these relationships.
The Present Purpose of the Mystery (3:10-11)
The Practical Effect of Enjoying the Truth of the Mystery (3:12-13)
The highest attainment of the knowledge of God’s purposes in Christ is intimately linked with the confidence of our souls in His love.
2nd Prayer: That We would See the Love of Christ Under it All (3:14-21)
- Knowledge. The 1st prayer is that we would know the objective truth of God’s power resulting in the glorification of Christ.
- Enjoyment. The 2nd prayer is that we would know the subjective truth of God’s love and of Christ which is the motive of it all, and that His love would be the glass through which we enjoy the Mystery.