Imprisoned for Christ

I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles” (Eph. 3:1).

- Ephesians 3:1

Today we return to Ephesians and pick up our study in chapter 3. Until this point, the apostle has reminded us of the greatness of our salvation, explaining that we have been granted every blessing in Christ, the One seated in authority over creation (chap. 1). This redemption is accomplished by grace alone as the Holy Spirit resurrects dead souls, granting them faith in Jesus and imputing to them our Savior’s righteousness. Those who rest only on the Lord prove their faith through good works done in cooperation with the Spirit’s work of sanctification, although these works cannot make us worthy of heaven. But those who trust in Jesus alone always evidence their faith in a life of discipleship as they are knit together with other believers and made into God’s holy dwelling (chap. 2).

Paul is a model of how to do theology because his proclamation of doctrine almost always leads him to burst forth in prayer and praise unto our holy Creator (see, for example, Rom. 11:33–36). This occurs in Ephesians 3, for Paul’s exposition of salvation in chapter 2 leads him to offer a prayer for his readers. The prayer actually starts in 3:1, but there is a short interlude as the apostle gives a description of his ministry from verses 1 through 13 before he picks up the prayer again in verse 14. Paraphrasing Paul’s words can help us understand the structure: “For this reason, your great salvation, let me pray” (v. 1) — “but let me first describe my ministry” (vv. 1–13) — “and now that I have described my ministry, let me again consider your great salvation, as it is the reason why I pray” (vv. 14–21).

In describing his ministry, Paul first explains his imprisonment for the sake of the Gentiles (v. 1). This is an allusion to one of the reasons why the apostle suffered for the sake of Christ. Many first-century Jews found the gospel offensive because it proclaimed a Messiah who suffered an accursed death on a tree — the cross. But many of them were also offended that this same Messiah did not require Gentiles to become Jews in order to be reconciled to Yahweh, the covenant Lord of Israel (Gal. 2:11–14). This led to false accusations that Paul denied the oracles of God given to Moses, resulting in the arrest described in Acts 21:17–36. In all likelihood, Paul wrote Ephesians during the imprisonment that followed.

Coram Deo

We do not often stop to consider just how offensive the message of the cross is to unconverted hearts. Which sinner could possibly imagine that the omnipotent Creator would save His people through the weakness and ignoble death of the Son of Man? But in this apparent weakness God displayed the strength of His wrath against sin and the power of His love and mercy, so we must never be ashamed of the gospel.

Passages for Further Study

Isaiah 8:11–15
Matthew 11:1–6
Romans 9:30–33
2 Timothy 1:8–14

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