Dr. Mark Scott wrote this treatment of the International Sunday School Lesson. Scott teaches preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College, Joplin, Missouri. This lesson treatment is published in issue no. 5 (weeks 21-24; May 26–June 16, 2019) of The Lookout magazine, and is also available online at www.lookoutmag.com.
Lesson Aim: Approach God with freedom and confidence in the power of Christ rooted in love.
By Mark Scott
The discipleship program “Rooted” originated in Africa and is growing in popularity among American churches. The prison epistles (our study through the bulk of the summer months) stress what it is like to be rooted in Christ (Ephesians 3:17; Colossians 2:6, 7). It is especially important that we are rooted in the plan of God to save the world through Christ. That is the message of Ephesians.
Up to this point in the epistle, Paul has stressed the blessings we have in Christ (1:3-14), the power we have by virtue of his lordship (vv. 15-23), the salvation that is available to us (2:1-10), and the unity we have in Jesus (vv. 11-22). In chapter three Paul marked out his place and the church’s place in God’s plan (3:1-13). Paul ended the first three chapters with a magnificent prayer (vv. 14-21).
Revealed Secret | Ephesians 3:8-13
Mystery is a key word in Ephesians (and Colossians). The English word makes us think of “mysterious,” but that is not what the word meant in the Bible. Mystery meant something that you might not have known unless it had been revealed, thus “revealed secret.” God revealed his mystery (plan; called eternal purpose in 3:11) to Paul and Paul wrote about it to the Ephesians. Other New Testament apostles and prophets helped Paul reveal the secrets of God (v. 5). In Colossians the mystery of God is Jesus himself (1:26, 27), but in Ephesians the mystery of God is the unity in Christ between Jews and Gentiles (3:6).
Paul was amazed to think that God would use him to reveal this mystery. His humility caused him to say of himself, “I am less than the least.” Paul viewed his privilege as a special grace. This two-fold stewardship of God’s grace caused Paul to preach (evangelize) to the Gentiles and to make plain (bring to light) the revealed plan of God, which had been hidden (untraceable) in the past but had been revealed to the saints of Paul’s day.
The missionary nature of Paul’s ministry worked itself out primarily in the church. God’s people were intended to make known the manifold wisdom of God to the universe (rulers and authorities refer to entities beyond the physical realm of this world—these exist in the heavenly realms). The plan of God is uniquely found in Christ. Placing faith in him allowed the believers to experience freedom and confidence. And even though Paul was a prisoner (3:1), he did not want the Ephesians to be discouraged (lose heart) about his sufferings (tribulations or pressures). The revealed secret of God was to unite all things in Christ (1:9, 10).
Powerful Prayer | Ephesians 3:14-21
Paul often broke out in prayer and doxology in his writings (Romans 1:25; 8:37-39; 11:34-36). This text is no exception. After taking three chapters to lay out the plan of God to unite all things in Christ, Paul went to his knees. This is the second prayer in Ephesians (see 1:15-23). It is hard to improve on the loftiness of this prayer. The request in the prayer is long and involved (verses 14-19 make up one sentence in the Greek New Testament). The doxology to the prayer is one of the most beautiful in all of the epistles.
Since Paul had been talking about the unity between Jews and Gentiles, he began the prayer with that same united purpose. The good Father in Heaven is one the who brings all people together. Essentially Paul’s request is two-fold: 1) that God would strengthen (strengthen to the point of being able to resist things) the Ephesians with power through his Spirit and 2) that God would help the Ephesians to grasp (lay hold of or seize; maybe even “understand”) God’s love. The strength comes from the Holy Spirit who indwells the believer, and the love comes in a thorough and immense way from Christ himself. The dimensions (width, length, height, and depth) of love are complete ways of speaking about being filled up with the fullness of Christ. Power from on high and love from Jesus keep saints rooted in God.
The prayer ends with a stunning doxology (see Hebrews 13:20, 21; Jude 24, 25). Paul acknowledged that God was very much able to answer the prayer because he can do immeasurably (above and beyond) more than believers could ask or imagine. God can do this because he has power, and that power indwells the believers. The prayer (and the first half of Ephesians) ended with glory being ascribed to God now and for eternity. (The theme of the 2010 NACC was “Beyond.”) If we stay rooted and established in him, he will take us beyond.
Lesson study ©2018, Christian Standard Media. Print and digital subscribers are permitted to make one print copy per week of lesson material for personal use. Lesson based on the scope and sequence, ©2018 by Christian Standard Media. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.