Intro: One of the most important questions that can be asked in the course of a Bible class is, “How can a person know what God wants? How can a person know the truth? Whenever that questions arises in a study I try to point the inquirer to necessity of knowing what the Bible teaches because the Bible is the revelation of God to men.
Do you believe that? Do you recognize the Bible to be God’s word, the truth and nothing but the truth? We will discuss some verses from the book of Ephesians that help us come to the right conclusion here.
I recognize that it may be somewhat circular to use Bible passages as evidence that the Bible is true. But it is important to know what the Bible claims for itself, and how the Bible answers our question, “How can I know what God wants?” There are many people who claim to believe that the Bible is God’s word, but look for the truth outside of the words of the Bible; such as a mystical leading of the Holy Spirit or an actual voice from heaven.
I. Read Eph. 3:1-7 – For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles — 2 if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you,3 how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, 4 by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ), 5 which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets: 6 that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel, 7 of which I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of His power.
A. In the letter of Ephesians Paul’s organization is easy to follow.
1. In chapter one, he highlights the spiritual blessings God offers in Christ. (chosen, adopted, redeemed, sealed with the Holy Spirit…)
2. In the second chapter, He describes our salvation by grace through faith, i.e. raised from spiritual death; brought near by the blood of Christ; reconciled to God in one body, etc.
3. In chapter 3 the emphasis is on communication, or divine revelation – How God has revealed all of this to man; Paul calls it “the revelation of the mystery”.
a. After Paul identifies himself as the prisoner of Christ (because he was physically imprisoned in Rome, and because the work Christ had given him held him captive), he mentioned that something was given to him that was “for” the Ephesians. (3:2)
B. “the dispensation of the grace of God” (v. 2) Look at that word “dispensation”: This word in the Greek signified a stewardship or administration of another’s affairs. It was used earlier to describe the “fullness of times” (1:10) or the prior administration of God’s plan to accomplish His purposes through Christ.
1. Here it may be helpful to think of the root English word: “dispense.” All through this book we learn about what God is willing to do for us in Christ. – Forgiveness, redemption, unity of the spirit, inheritance, or all spiritual blessings. These things represent as a whole God’s grace. Paul calls the dispensing of these things “the dispensation of grace of God.” It was indeed a stewardship given to Paul as an apostle of Christ.
2. The information and instruction about what a gracious God is willing to dispense was given to Paul and he says it was “given to me for you.” The gospel was given to Paul, but not just for his personal use. It was given to Paul, to convey to the Gentiles. This verse describes the dispensing of the gospel of the grace of God through the apostles.
3. The Holy Spirit was sent to make known the whole truth to the apostles of Christ. This process was outlined by Jesus on the night of own arrest.
• John 14:25-26 – “These things I have spoken to you while being present with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.
• John 16:12-13 – 12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. In Acts 1 Luke tells us that Jesus promised the apostles the power of the Holy Spirit to authenticate their message. This process of revelation is in full view on the first Pentecost after Jesus’ resurrection.
• Acts 2:14 – But Peter, standing up with the eleven, raised his voice and said to them, “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and heed my words.
• Acts 2:41-43 – 41 Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. 42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. 43 Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.
C. Ephesians 3:3-4 – how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) – There are 2 key words in this passage:
1. The word “Revelation” simply means to uncover something. A helpful reference is found in Matt. 10:26 – “Therefore, do not fear them. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known.”So to reveal (in the biblical sense) is to uncover; to let something be known.
2. The other word is “mystery.” In this context, this simply means, something that was hidden, but has now been revealed. The word here, in Ephesians 3, is not identical to the modern use of the word “mystery,” which often means something that cannot be known at all.
• Col 1:24-26 – I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church, 25 of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God which was given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God, 26 the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints.
3. The purpose of the revelation – Rom. 16:25-27 – Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began 26 but now made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith — Paul indicates that this revealed mystery had been made known to all nations through the “prophetic scriptures”.
a. For what purpose? – “for the obedience of faith” – The Holy Spirit revealed God’s plan to the apostles & prophets so that all men could believe and obey God. This also corresponds well with the events of Acts 2 and the early history of the church in Acts. The apostles revealed the message and people responded in faith and obedience. “As many as believed were baptized”.
b. Faith through hearing– Earlier in Rom. 10, Paul declared that “as many as called on the Lord would be saved” (a call to obedience, not a sinner’s prayer). Then he asks a rhetorical question: Rom 10:14-17 – How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? 15 And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?” 17 So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
4. “When you read you can understand…” One of the most important truths taught by Paul in this passage is in vs. 4. The apostle received the truth through the direct revelation of the Holy Spirit – inspiration. Do all believers receive the truth the same way?
a. Although Paul was inspired and wrote through revelation, the Ephesians would understand the mystery (gospel) by reading what Paul was writing. It is poor exegesis to apply Jesus’ promises to the apostles in the upper room concerning the coming Holy Spirit to all believers. God has not promised to guide me into all truth in the same way the Holy Spirit guided the apostles, or to bring to my remembrance everything that Jesus taught.
b. But the fact that He did promise the apostles this divine guidance and revelation means that the apostolic writings were as authoritative as the oral teachings of the apostles when they were alive, and as authoritative and the words of Christ.
II. Implications to consider: This passage has enormous practical meaning today, for every one of us.
A. We can understand the will of God through reading and understanding apostolic writings – the scriptures.
B. We can know what God is willing to dispense to man in Christ, by reading the Bible. (what God accomplished on the cross – the good news of the gospel)
C. We can know how to respond to God by reading the Bible.
1. Truth in religion is not determined or defined by what is practical, popular, or persuasive. It is objectively contained within the words of the Bible. Jesus prayed that His apostles would be sanctified to the purpose of God through the truth, and then added, “Your word is truth” (John 17:17)
a. Paul expected his audience to not only understand what he wrote, but to accept it as the authoritative word of God. 1 Thess 2:13 – For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe. We should speak the apostolic message with the same expectation. These are God’s very words. I
b. If we cannot understand the scriptures (too esoteric) or we cannot understand them alike (too relative or ambiguous) then God is complicit in religious division and He cannot justly command us to be united. But He does. Such an approach to truth seems too simple for our disjointed and confusing religious world. Many see this approach to truth too confining.
D. Return to Ephesians. After giving these Christians the assurance that they can know the truth through his writing, he calls on them to unite in that very message.
1. Eph 4:1-6 – I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, 2 with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, 3 endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. Paul calls on them to keep the unity of the Spirit peaceably. How? Ecumenical tolerance? Cultural consensus? No, Paul expects them ALL to adhere to the singular, objective teaching that had already been revealed… ONE body, Spirit, hope, calling, Lord, faith, baptism, and God. Seems rather restrictive and narrow, doesn’t it? Truth is like that.
2. Not only is this unity based on a single message possible, but God has equipped the church with the tools necessary to accomplish just that. Eph 4:11-16 – And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head — Christ — 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.
3. What does the church need to do its work and be united?
a. Not psychological counselors, recreational directors, or institutional ministers. We need what God has provided: The words of the Apostles & Prophets (contained in scripture); evangelists, pastors, and teachers. The mission is about the message. Our work is to teach the truth in love.
b. If the Bible is not the source of God’s truth, or the platform for the unity of God’s people, then what is?
4. So a true search for truth cannot ignore or demote the importance of the Bible. Not because we worship a book or a doctrine, but because the Bible is the written revelation of the dispensation of the grace of God. 2 Tim 3:16-1716 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
5. God calls on us to pray for understanding and wisdom. Bible study requires both trust and effort on our part. But God’s message is understandable. You cannot know what God wants apart from the Bible. Paul praised the Bereans because they were “more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.” (Acts 17:11)
Conclusion: Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Do you have Bible authority for what you believe? How did you become a Christian? Read carefully what Jesus said in Mk. 16:16 – “He that believes and is baptized will be saved” Have you done that?