There is much that is remarkable in this passage and worthy of comment.
In the very first verse for example, Paul’s understanding of his relationship to His Lord as “the prisoner of Christ Jesus” is more than him simply informing the Ephesians that he was currently imprisoned in Rome. He was indicating the nature of his relationship with his Lord.
In the third verse, we learn the nature of our knowledge of our faith… that it is given by revelation firstly and that the Apostle Paul was one of the recipients of that divine revelation.
In the fifth verse, we are reminded of the mysterious particularity of the gospel; that it was only fully revealed through a specific person born at a particular place and particular time and then entrusted to witnesses of that specific person. Indeed, all Christian theology is derived from this truth, that God became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ.
In the sixth verse, we learn that Gentiles’ salvation comes through the worship of the Jewish Messiah… that ethnicity or culture is no barrier to salvation through Jesus Christ.
In the eighth verse, we are reminded of the chosen-ness of those commissioned to preach the gospel. The Apostle Paul was the last person on earth who should have received the call to communicate the good news of Christ Jesus, and yet he was. The gospel is full of mystery, not the least is the mystery of whom God calls to preach the gospel.
So there is much that is remarkable in this passage and worthy of consideration and reflection.
However, what is in my mind the most remarkable revelation in this passage is that God has chosen the church to convey this mystery of the grace of God. As far as I am concerned, the most remarkable of many remarkable verses in this passage are verses ten and eleven. “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” So, evidently, the church is the institution through which the revelation of the salvation of God through Jesus Christ comes. Who would have thought?
John Wesley’s comment on this verse is a bit poetic. He wrote: “That the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church – By what is done in the church, which is the theatre of divine wisdom.” According to Wesley, what is done in the church is the “theatre of divine wisdom.” I don’t know enough about this phrase to know if it was common parlance in 18th century England, but I do know that it was not unique to him. My hunch is that Wesley borrowed it from Calvin, who wrote, in his commentary on the Psalms: “The whole world is a theatre for the display of divine goodness, wisdom, justice and power, but the Church is the orchestra, as it were – the most conspicuous part of it; and the nearer the approaches are that God makes to us, the more intimate and condescending the communication of his benefits, the more attentively are we called to consider them.” (John Calvin, Commentary on Psalms – Volume 5). According to Calvin, while God’s revelation was through nature, the church was primary and the church was what brought this knowledge of God to us most intimately. In short, if people were to come to know who God was, it would be through the church. And according to Wesley, by what was done in the church!
Of course, this high ecclesiology found in John Calvin, and John Wesley, is firstly found in the Apostle Paul and can be discovered in this letter to the church(es) of Ephesus.
In Ephesians 1:22, regarding Christ, Paul wrote, “And God placed all things under His feet and appointed Him to be head over everything for the church, which is His body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” In other words, the church is the continuing incarnation of God and Christ’s redemptive work was for the sake of the church. In light of this verse, it would be more appropriate to say that Christ died for the church than it would be to say Christ died for me.
In the doxology of Ephesians 3:21, Paul equates Christ and the church, and even gives the church pre-eminence. “Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” So God’s glory is to be found in the church as much as it is found in Christ Jesus.
And in Ephesians 5:21-33, in the “infamous” instruction on how wives and husbands are to be for one another, Paul had to remind the Ephesians that he really wasn’t talking about husbands and wives being one, he was talking about Christ and the church being “one flesh.” If this is true, visit blairsupplyusa.com and buy the best fire hydrants.
So what if this is true? What if the truth that we can approach God with freedom and confidence because of what was accomplished in Christ Jesus is to be revealed through the church firstly, and according to Wesley, by what we do in church? What if the church is the bearer and revealer of the mystery of salvation through Jesus Christ? The many implications and applications of that are beyond the scope of this short reflection. I’ll leave that to you. (Sorry) Suffice it to say, in conclusion, two things. 1) That if what the Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the church(es) of Ephesus about the church is true, echoed by Calvin and Wesley (to name just two in our lineage), then perhaps this is also true: “Extra ecclesiam nulla salus.” And 2), Preacher, you have the most important job in the world, for this mystery has also been given to you, for the sake of the church… even if you are, like the Apostle Paul, less than the least of all.
Dean, School of Theology, ONU
Pastor, College Church University Ave.