The first section (vv 1-13) of this chapter is somewhat parenthetical, as Paul digresses to explain his personal relationship to the great mystery of Christ. His stewardship and consequent sufferings both manifest the grace of God and he accepts both as an honor for the sake of Christ and for their sakes.
God’s Eternal Purpose – The Mystery of Christ
He begins with, “for this cause” (v 1) and perhaps picks up that thread again in verse 14: “for this cause,” as he expresses a wonderful prayer for their spiritual strengthening to enable them to enter into the fullness of God’s inheritance in experiencing the love of Christ (vv 14-21).
3:1-13 A Stewardship of God’s Grace to the Gentiles
“Dispensation” (v 2) means “stewardship,” an administration or ministry of God’s grace committed to Paul. Grace is the great characteristic of God’s dealings with men in the world today. In a special way, this was committed to Paul. His apostleship was bound up in this sovereign call of God to tell the message of His grace to the nations of the world. God had communicated to the apostle His great secret of Christ and the Church, then confirmed this revelation through the other apostles and New Testament prophets (vv 3-5). It would be essential to establish the divine authority for teaching such a radical change in God’s dealings as outlined in chapter 2. The mystery here especially concerns the nature of the Church as the body of Christ, and the inclusion of believing Gentiles on complete equality with believing Jews as co-heirs, co-members of His body, and co-participants in God’s promise in Christ through the gospel (v 6). What a stewardship! God provides sufficiency for that which He entrusts to us. The once fanatical Pharisee now feels utterly unworthy to be counted among the saints of God, and to be entrusted with such a treasure. His attitude toward himself, the Gentiles to whom he ministers, and to the Christ he once hated, is now governed by his appreciation of the grace of God and the incalculable glory of Christ (vv 7-8). His ambition is to so fulfil his stewardship that all may come to see the wonder of God’s treasured eternal secret, that which is now being displayed in the heavenlies as the masterpiece of divine wisdom (vv 9-10). God’s great purpose of the ages has been accomplished in Christ risen and glorified; in Whom we now have perfect freedom and unfettered access with full assurance of faith unto God (vv 11-12). In light of this, let there be no fainting in the face of hardship or opposition! The greater the cost, the greater the value placed on the object of his labor. The more extreme his sufferings were, the more intense his service became, the more precious was the fruit of his labor. In this he mirrors the stoop and love of Christ, Who endured so much for our sakes. Is there no glory attached to, “the Son of God Who loved me and gave Himself for me”? God’s masterpiece of wisdom, the object of the Savior’s love: the Church! “Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for it, that He might present it to Himself a GLORIOUS CHURCH” (5:25-27).
3:14-21 Prayer to the Father for Strength and Fullness in Christ
“The Father … of Whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named” (vv 14-15): most translations favor “every family” possibly intimating the heavenly character of the Church, then Israel and other nations on earth in the millennial/eternal kingdom; or “all fatherhood,” recognizing the fatherhood of God as the archetype of all paternal relations. All fatherhood is derived from Him, gathering its character and beauty from Him: the protective care and provision of a father is immediately understood. His giving is according to His greatness, His inexhaustible riches. Note the parallels and progression in Paul’s two prayers (chs 1&3). Both prayers emphasize God’s power; in both, the Spirit is the agent of its accomplishment in us:
Chapter 1: Prayer for enlightenment by the Spirit – insight into God’s purposes and power toward us in Christ.
Chapter 3: Prayer for enablement by the Spirit – to enter into, lay hold of, what God has for us in Christ.
“The inner man” (v 16) refers to the renewed spiritual part of our being, possessed and empowered by the gracious indwelling Spirit. His power is directed to the enthronement of Christ within us: “dwell” means “to settle down, be at home, reside.” Christ indwells every believer (Rom 8:10), yet He will not be satisfied with a merely formal relationship – He is to be enthroned as Lord, with His character and principles controlling our lives. This is experienced as we cooperate with the Spirit in responding to the living Christ in us “through faith” (v 17). As love is the essence of His life, the inevitable outcome will be life “rooted and grounded in love.” Love supplies both sustaining strength and stability for our lives, and enables capacity to apprehend, lay hold of, the vastness of our spiritual inheritance. “With all saints” (v 18) may suggest that it requires all the saints put together to comprehend or possess the rich blessings of God in Christ. These blessings are experienced by enjoyment of relationship with Him; we know His unfathomable love by experiencing it. “That ye might be filled unto all the fulness of God” (v 19), implies development of spiritual fullness of life approaching true reflection of God’s own blessed character and qualities.
Verses 20-21 form an exclamation of worship. “To Him that is ABLE … ,” the descriptive terms are multiplied to convey the impression of inexhaustible strength, and unrestrained willingness to do great things in us by His indwelling Spirit. “To Him be glory in the Church … to all the generations of the age of the ages (R. V.).” Christ and the Church will be the ultimate display of Divine glory forever. With such resources, and with such a calling, how shall we respond?