E W Rogers, Oxford
Verse i of this chapter is broken off suddenly (not uncommon in Paul's writings) and is resumed in Verse 14 where we are given his great second prayer for the saints, (cf. i. I5ff).
He speaks of himself as "I Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus in behalf of you Gentiles", 3.1 R.v. He is not only a bondservant, and an apostle, but a prisoner of Christ Jesus. He knew the real cause for which he had been imprisoned. He had been divinely commissioned to go to the Gentiles and proclaim to them the Gospel of God's grace. This antagonized the Jews, for Paul insisted that God's salvation was by grace through faith, and in no way of works, not even the works of the Jewish religion. The Jews, therefore, stirred up opposition against him, because it seemed as if he were forming anew sect around a new religion, which was not only repugnant to them but illegal in the eyes of the Roman authorities. In chapter 4. 1 r.v. he speaks of himself as "the prisoner in the Lord'*, or, as it might be expanded, "in the Lord's service". His eye is ever on Christ as supremely above all the circumstances of earth, be they never so grim under the regime of Nero. He regarded this as a great honour; indeed, in this section he speaks three times of the grace of God that had been conferred upon him, writing that he had been entrusted with "the dispensation (or stewardship) of the grace of God which was given me to you-ward", 3. 2 r.v. Again, in verse 7 r.v. "according to the gift of that grace of God which was given me" and again, in verse 8 R.V., "Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, was this grace given". He pioneered this evangelistic work among the Gentiles. Though it were against his natural bent, yet the grace of God that had been shown to him when yet in his sins now caused him to delight to proclaim the Gospel to the Gentiles, since he had been specially commissioned so to do.
A special revelation had been given to him. It related to what he calls
"The Mystery". This is not something which is mysterious; rather it is that which has hitherto been kept secret, but is now revealed to the "perfect", i Cor. 2. 6. Just as certain societies in Paul's day had their mysteries which were disclosed only to the initiated, so the "mystery" of the Gospel is known only by those who are illumined by God's Spirit. It had been communicated to Paul by "divine revelation", and is the subject matter of chapters 1 and 2 which we have examined. This is, apparently, what he alludes to when he says "As I wrote afore in a few words", v. 3, and the saints would see that Paul had a clear understanding of the mystery after they had read thus far in his letter. It is "the mystery of Christ", (see Col. 4. 3), and it is defined in Colossians 1. 27 as "Christ in you, the hope of glory".
That the Gentiles were to be blessed was clearly envisaged in the Old Testament writings. Paul quotes the relevant passages when writing to the Romans - see Romans 9. 25, 26; 10. 19, 20; 15. 9-12, 21, - but the idea that they should be blessed on equal terms with the Jews, and without the necessity of their becoming Jews, was altogether new. In fact it had not been made known to mankind until it was revealed to the apostles and prophets of New Testament times subsequent to the great Pentecostal outpouring of the Spirit. The Gentile believers were to be fellow-heirs, fellow-members of the body, and fellow-partakers of the promise in Christ, Eph. 3. 6. This was the Gospel which Paul preached, and which elsewhere he calls "my gospel", for its peculiarity lay in the fact that Jew and Gentiles were brought to the one level, subjected to the same conditions, and afforded the same privileges each equally with the other. Nothing like this is to be found in the Old Testament Scriptures, and it is therefore an utter mistake to interpret the Old Testament as relating to the Church, which is the body of Christ.
A reference to the parallel passage in Colossians 1. 26 will show that the word "as" in verse 5 of our chapter does not have the force of comparison, inferring that it was partially revealed but not fully revealed "as it hath now been revealed". Rather both passages affirm the total concealment of the matter till its revelation to Paul and others. In fact, nothing can be clearer than verse 9 which affirms that this mystery has been hid in God from all ages. It was, indeed, an "eternal purpose", or, as the margin of the R.V. renders it, "the purpose of the ages", 3.11.
Paul thus equates this "mystery" with God's eternal "purpose". That purpose centred in, and revolved around Christ. It embraced all who had put their "faith in him", v. 12 r.v. What a motley crowd of persons they were - how varied their characteristics, dispositions, records, status, and much else; yet God in His manifold (many coloured) wisdom could handle successfully such a variety of persons, bringing them all on to one level, to one common faith in His Son, and incorporating them all into the one Body, making them all co-heirs with Christ, and co-partakers of the promise. God designed that at the present time, and not in the future only (see 2. 7), the invisible spiritual powers in the heavenly places should learn by the Church what the consummate wisdom of God had wrought, 3. 10.
Instead of being "afar off", and God being a God at a far distance, we now have freedom of speech (boldness) and access to Him in unwavering confidence, 3. 12. None need have an Esther-like fear in approaching God (see Est. 4. 16); all may draw near with boldness.
Thus Paul defines the "mystery"; stresses its prior concealment but present revelation and entrustment to him as the favoured depository; defines its scope as reaching to the Gentiles; affirms that this was his specific ministry or service; and declares that the present objective in view is the manifestation of God's many-hued wisdom to the spirit-beings by the Church.
Why then should the saints lose heart because of Paul's tribulations? If he could rejoice in them, Col. 1. 24, should they not be able to glory in them?, Eph. 3. 13.
Paul traces everything back to its true source, to God. He recognizes that in his labours in the Gospel it has been "according to the working of his mighty power". He also knows that before the original creation (for it was God who created all things, v. 9) there lay an eternal purpose, and Paul regarded it as a high honour not only to be allowed to spread the good news of it, but also to partake in the sufferings that were thereby incurred.
Paul’s Prayer. Paul now resumes in verse 14 his broken sentence of verse 1. In humble dependence upon God, he bows his knees to the Father of whom every fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named, as some translations read, but the A.V. has "the whole family". Scholars are divided on the point.
His prayer envisages what we saw in chapter 1, namely that the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity actively participate in the working out of the counsel of God. Hence here, the Father is addressed; it is the Spirit who imparts strength to the inner man, and the prayer is that Christ may take up His abode in their hearts through faith. That is to say, he desires that Christ may make His permanent dwelling place in their hearts, and that they may have the conscious experimental knowledge of this as their faith lays hold upon, and appropriates the fact that Christ is "in you, the hope of glory", Col. 1. 27. He does not desire a spasmodic experience; he prays that it may be an accomplished and complete decision - the tense of "may dwell" in verse 17 is aorist.
This is not a mere matter of academic or mental apprehension; we need to be strengthened by God's Spirit in the inner man for this, cf. 2 Cor. 4. 16. As individuals we must be "rooted" in His love, and as a company we must be "grounded" or "founded" on the same, v. 17. Thereby, and indeed consequential upon this (as the Greek word translated "able" implies), we may be "able to comprehend with all saints" what are the dimensions of the mystery which has been brought about by the operation of His love. Without going into the technicalities of the difference between te and kai, it is perhaps too much to say that verse 18 relates to the mystery, and verse 19 to the love. Both are inseparable. Some think we come to apprehend the dimensions of the sphere in which the divine counsel finds its fulfilment, and then we come to know the love which occupies it. The bridal home prepared by the bridegroom cannot be separated from the love which provided it., and so it is here. Vast as the "mystery" is, and this we considered when studying 2. 1-10, the love is equally vast. Consider its dimensions: to what depths did the love of Christ take Him?
None of the ransomed ever knew How deep were the waters crossed,Nor how dark was the night that the Lord passed through, Ere He found the sheep that were lost.
Consider the heights to which it has taken us. Read again the closing verses of chapter 1. Ponder its breadth and all-embrac-iveness, and forget not its length, which has its source in a past eternity and goes on into the endless future. It is an everlasting love.
The "love of Christ" is that which is stated to surpass all knowledge. Here is a science (knowledge) which exceeds all other sciences, no matter to what they relate. It is the paradox of knowing what exceeds all knowledge. The ultimate goal of all this is in order "that ye may be filled unto (into) all the fulness of God", R.v. We cannot be filled with that fulness for the finite cannot contain the infinite, but much as an empty bottle is in the ocean, and the ocean is in the bottle, or as we are in the air and the air is in us, so we may be in "all the fulness of God" (all that He is), and it may be in us. It is that for which the Lord Jesus prayed: "that they all may be one: as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us", John 17. 21.
Verse 20 relates to the prayer which we have just been considering. God is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that Paul is here asking or even thinking, according to the power which is energizing in him, cf. 1. 20. His doxology of praise is appropriate to all that has gone before, "glory in the church" and glory "in Christ Jesus unto all the generations of the age of the ages. Amen", R.v. marg.
The expression "glory in the church" shows that the Church will have a distinctive place in the eternal ages. Whatever God may do in regard to other "families" of the redeemed, v. 15, the Church will ever hold its special place as that upon which Christ set His love and for which He died.