These small group studies of Ephesians contain outlines, cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, and applications.  Visit our library of inductive Bible studies for more in depth inductive studies on this and other books of the Bible you can use in your small group.

Ephesians 3:1-13 Inductive Bible Study Discussion Questions and Lesson

Outline

I. Paul was given a revelation into what was a mystery (1-4)
II. Other generations did not have this knowledge (5)
III. The exact mystery was that Gentiles are fellow members of the body (6)
IV. Paul was a steward accomplishing this mission (7-10)
V. This was God’s plan for eternity (11)
VI. Therefore we must lose heart (12-13)

I. Paul was given a revelation into what was a mystery (1-4)

Discussion Questions

  • Verse one starts with the phrase, “For this reason I, Paul…” What is the ending of this sentence? (2-13 is a parenthetical statement interrupting his thought in verse one which he continues in verse 14).
  • What does it mean to be a prisoner of Christ Jesus?
  • Why was Paul in this situation?
  • What did Paul do while a prisoner?
  • What does a steward do?
  • What does it mean that Paul is a steward of God’s grace?
  • How did Paul get a special insight into this mystery?

Cross-References

2 Corinthians 11:23-29 – In these verses Paul lists out his sufferings as a believer serving the Lord.

2 Timothy 1:8 – So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.

Teaching Points

1. Verses 2-13 are a break from Paul’s thought which he began in verse one. The thought began in verse one is taken up again starting in verse 14.

2. Although Paul was a prisoner of the Romans for a total of about four years, he didn’t say he was a prisoner of the Romans. He said he was a prisoner of Jesus Christ. He recognizes that Jesus is sovereign. Jesus is in control. When everyone told Paul not to go back to Jerusalem because they feared for his safety, he did anyway, knowing he would wind up a prisoner. Being a prisoner was just the next step of Christ’s plan for him. We can learn several things from this:

a) Christ is sovereign. Although at times it looks like governments or earthly leaders are in control, they are all under the mighty hand of God. They can only do what God allows them to do. This should comfort us in times of trials.

b) Because Christ is in control and our life is in his hands, we don’t need to be upset, complain, or become bitter when seemingly bad things happen to us. Even in prison, Paul made himself useful and fulfilled the purpose for which God put him there.

Everything happens to believers for a reason (Romans 8:28). Instead of complaining, we need to look for the reason and make sure we are doing what’s right. A worldly person in Paul’s place may wonder why they are there and think it was a waste of their talents and preaching ability, but Paul knew God had a reason. The result of Paul being in prison is several New Testament books that he wouldn’t have had time to write if he wasn’t in prison.

c) Do not blame or react harshly to people who treat you wrongly.

I am six foot three and enjoy playing basketball. Most of the time when I play, my teammates ask me to play in the middle since I am the tallest on our team. That often results in being on the receiving end of many hard fouls. When I was younger, I found it harder to practice self-control. Sometimes I reacted with a hot temper when I felt the other team was too rough or unfair. Now I realize that in each of these cases, God allowed these things to happen. Perhaps He wants to build my patience.

In a similar manner, when you face unfair treatment consider what lesson God may want you to glean from the situation. Maybe there is a character quality that He wants you to work on.If a boss criticizes your work you know you did well, maybe it is God teaching you some humility.

David gives us good example of this principle. When his enemy cursed him while on the run from Absalom (2 Samuel 16), his people asked him for permission to kill this guy.

David replied in 2 Samuel 16:10 – But the king said, “What have I to do with you, O sons of Zeruiah? If he curses, and if the Lord has told him, ‘Curse David,’ then who shall say, ‘Why have you done so?’”

3. Paul was a prisoner not because of anything wrong he had done. Most people are prisoners for stealing, violence, murder, fraud, etc. Paul was in prison because he had made it his life’s work to preach to the Gentiles. As my mother told me many times growing up, life is not fair.

4. Paul, along with the other disciples, were stewards of God’s grace. A steward is someone who manages something for someone else. It doesn’t belong to him, but he has it for a period of time. He is supposed to manage it well and let it increase and prosper (Matthew 25:14-30.) It was Paul’s duty to care for the gospel, making sure it stayed pure and true and went out to the Gentiles. A bad steward would twist it to their own ends or be lazy, but Paul kept it pure and diligently traveled around everywhere to preach it out.

5. As an apostle, Paul received a special revelation. The things he was teaching did not come from himself. They came directly from God, meaning they are binding and trustworthy.

II. Other generations did not have this knowledge (5)

Questions for Discussion

During what time was this mystery hidden? In what way did God choose to reveal it?

Cross-References

Matthew 13:17 – For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.

1 Peter 1:10-12 – Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.

Teaching Points

1. In Old Testament times, the concept that the Gentiles and Jews would be one was a mystery. There were some hints (Genesis 12, Isaiah 49:6) that all people would have the opportunity to receive salvation and it would go to all peoples. But even so, Jews did not expect that Gentiles would have exactly the same level/position as they did. The prophets tried to understand these things, but they were hidden even from them at that time. God’s plan cannot be known apart from His special revelation and at that time for whatever reason He had not yet revealed it.

2. Now He has revealed it He revealed it to Paul and the other apostles as well as some New Testament prophets. Through them everyone could know this part of God’s plan.

3. This means that we don’t have to be in the dark. We live in a very privileged age. We have as much or more information about God and His plan than any other generation all the way back to Adam. We have the entire completed Bible. God has blessed us by telling us what He is doing and how He is working in the world. I suggest that all of us pay attention by devoting ourselves to the study of the Word.

III. The exact mystery was that Gentiles are fellow members of the body (6)

Discussion Questions

  • What exactly is the mystery that Paul is referring to?
  • What word is mentioned three times in this verse?
  • What is the significance of this word?
  • How does it depict the relationship between Jews and Gentiles?
  • What type of word is this (adjective)?
  • What three nouns does this describe (heirs, members, partakers)?
  • Heirs of what? Members of what? Partakers of what?
  • What does this show about the relative spiritual position of the Jews and Gentiles?
  • How can this promise be realized? (Through the gospel.)

Cross-References

Romans 8:14-17 – For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Galatians 4:5-7 – To redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.

1 Corinthians 12:12-13 – Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

Teaching Points

1. What is the exact mystery Paul speaks of? It is the fact that Gentiles and Jews can be one, part of the same group. What an amazing truth! It could not be conceived of beforehand.

It would be like saying during the Japanese invasion of China that Chinese and Japanese would be one. That person would be laughed off or worse. How about telling a Pole during WWII that they would be one with the Germans? But the amazing thing is, this doesn’t only apply to the Gentiles and Jews. As we discussed last time, it means there are no spiritual, ethnic, gender, age, or economic barrier in the church. Blacks and whites are one. Arabs and Westerners are one. Chinese and Japanese are one. All believers have one Lord, one faith, one baptism.

Corrie Ten Boom was the daughter of a watchmaker in Holland. During WWII she and her family hid Jews in their house to protect them from Nazis. She and her sister Betsy were taken as prisoners to Ravensbruck. While there, they were seriously mistreated. Betsy passed away. After the war was over, Corrie was freed. God led her to travel around and talk about forgiveness, trying to bring healing to a broken land. While in one church sharing about forgiveness, to her horror she saw one of her guards from Ravensbruck in the congregation. Afterwards, he came up to her. He wanted to know if it was really true that she could forgive and that God could forgive. He told her that he was a guard in Ravensbruck (not knowing that she remembered who he was.) Then he reached out his hand and asked for forgiveness. For Corrie, time seemed to stand still. Her body was paralyzed. The man in front of her had been cruel and evil. Her sister had died. She knew she should forgive. That is what she was teaching people about, but faced with that decision in that moment it was the most difficult thing she could imagine. Finally, she said a silent prayer asking for help from the Lord. At that moment He helped her. She was able to extend her hand and offer forgiveness, as a warmth and love filled her heart for this guard. Embracing him, she told him that she did forgive him.

The story is a picture of the unity that God brings. Enemies can become friends because of Christ. His peace which passes all understanding can give us peace with other people around us.

Application: Is there someone you need to forgive? Is there a relationship that is splintered that needs healing? What step can you take to mend that relationship this week?

2. The word “fellow” is repeated three times. This word shows the close relationship that believers of all races and peoples can have one another. “Fellow” denotes equality. It is a peer, horizontal relationship. More than equality, it also shows companionship and a certain closeness. “Fellow” is like a buddy, a pal, a friend. Not only is there no longer enmity among believers who belonged to opposing groups, but there is friendship and mutual encouragement. Therefore believers must not imagine superiority over others and must not be prejudiced.

3. This adjective describes three nouns: heirs, members, partakers – All three denote our relationship to God. As His sons, we are His heirs. We are members of His body. We are partakers of His promise. Only because of our relationship to God can we have this relationship to each other. Our relationship to one another is actually based on our relationship to God. That is the root or defining relationship.

Imagine there are three kids from three different countries, by nature enemies. They are all orphans, but one family adopts all of them. They then grow to have a strong relationship with each other. Why? Because they are all children of the same parents, creating a bond which overcomes the natural barriers between them. Next time you are tempted to show prejudice against a fellow believer for any reason, remember that he also is a child of God. You are brothers or sisters. Treat each other like brothers and sisters.

4. This truth (unity in Christ) doesn’t apply to everyone. Look around you in the world and see the conflicts raging even between Israel and its neighbors. This truth only applies to those who have accepted the gospel (see the end of verse 6 which says “through the gospel.”)

IV. Paul was a steward accomplishing this mission (7-10)

Discussion Questions

  • Why was Paul a minster of the gospel?
  • What special qualities did he have?
  • Why does he call himself the least of all saints?
  • Since he was the “least of all saints”, how come he could accomplish so much for God? What principles can we learn from this?
  • What was his main duty?
  • What other duty did he have?
  • What is the church’s responsibility as mentioned here?
  • What does this tell us about the common believer’s responsibilities?
  • Who are the authorities in the heavenly places?

Cross-References

Romans 15:15-16 – Yet I have written you quite boldly on some points to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. He gave me the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

2 Corinthians 4:1-2 – Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.

Colossians 1:26 – The mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people.

Psalms 103:20 – Praise the Lord, you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word.

Teaching Points

1. Paul was a minster not because of any special qualities he had. There was nothing he had done. He didn’t earn this position. It wasn’t a reward for his hard work. It was all God’s work. We see the words “gift”, “grace” and “working of His power”. All the glory goes to God because He transformed Paul into who he was. When we do ministry, we would do well to remember this truth. It is all God’s work both in us and through us.

2. Why was he called the least of all saints? Before he became a believer he was the greatest enemy of Christ. He made a living persecuting believers. As such, he was completely unworthy of God’s grace and the least deserving. If you cannot be saved through good works, you most definitely cannot be saved through evil works against God! That is why he called himself the least. God’s grace and power was magnified through Paul because of the complete life transformation which happened to him at conversion. God completely transformed this enemy into His servant. Paul then had the great opportunity and privilege to be God’s appointed messenger to the Gentiles.

3. In addition to preaching, He had a secondary goal to bring to light hidden mysteries. Besides the mystery mentioned in this chapter, Paul, after receiving revelation from God, revealed several other truths that were previously mysteries.

4. Notice the responsibility of the church. What is it? The responsibility of the church is to bring glory to God so that even the angels will know God’s wisdom and praise Him even more. How does this work? Well, we know from Scripture that angels are watching us. Angels also have the task of praising God. So when they see God accomplishing His work in the world and in the church, then they can more clearly see God’s great wisdom and plan for the world and give Him more glory.

From an angel’s perspective it may also sometimes be confusing why God does certain things. Why not just wipe out the world and all its sin with it. But by seeing a the church, the bride of Christ, serving Him with its whole heart and glorifying God, they also can see that God is all wise and give Him the appropriate glory.

5. Every person in the church has a responsibility. The work is not only up to the pastors and preachers and missionaries. The church is not an audience watching Paul and Peter or MacArthur, Spurgeon, and Piper. These guys preach and teach to the church so that the church can better fulfill its duties, which is to bring glory to God and reach the world for Christ.

Application: Are you a watcher or a participator? Are you part of the audience or one of the workers? Every believer is to be a worker. In most churches 90% of the work is done by 10% of the people. There is a lot of kingdom work to do both inside and outside the church. Each believer is given a gift and resources to use for building God’s kingdom. What work is God calling you to do for Him?

V. This was God’s plan for eternity (11)

Discussion Questions

  • Was this a new plan?
  • How do you know?
  • What does this tell us about God?
  • How should this affect our attitude towards God?

Cross-References

Isaiah 46:10-11 – I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’
From the east I summon a bird of prey;  from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose. What I have said, that I will bring about; what I have planned, that I will do.

Ephesians 2:18 – For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Teaching Point

1. God’s purposes don’t change. As seen in this last chapter, this was not a new idea. This should give us confidence in the Lord and increase our faith in Him. He knows what He is doing. His plans are perfect and He is control. Though the world sometimes looks like it is in chaos, God is still on His throne.

VI. Therefore we must not lose heart (12-13)

Cross-Reference

Hebrews 4:14-16 – Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Teaching Points

1. Do not lose heart (13) – At the end of this section, Paul gives the application for the Ephesians. They should not lose heart. He had faced many difficulties for the gospel. But his work was useful. It was important. God is sovereign and had a plan. Yes, he was in prison, but he didn’t regret it. He knew it was part of the plan of God. When he faced trials, it was for the sake of the Gentiles and their belief. It was well worth it.

Application: What is one trial you have faced recently? Looking back, what good aspects can you see that maybe you did not see at the time?

2. For us, we can also learn from Paul’s instruction in verse 13.

a) Don’t lose heart. If you or another believer are facing many trials, don’t lose heart. Know that they are from God just like Paul’s. Encourage other believers and also have faith in God yourself. He is a good God and cares for us.

b) It is well worth it to face trouble and tribulation for the sake of others and for the sake of the gospel. Don’t try to avoid it. Serve God faithfully and if trouble comes as a result thank the Lord that He considered you worthy to suffer for Him.

E-book: If these notes are helpful you can download the entire Ephesians E-book study guide to use on any device or print the entire series.

Study Ephesians 3:14-4:16

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