Ephesians 3:1-13

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

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 goes on in verse 14).
What does it mean to be a prisoner of Christ Jesus? Why was Paul in this situation? What is different about this situation than when most people are in prison?
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 – Paul’s sufferings as a believer listed out.
2 Timothy 1:8 – Don’t be ashamed to testify of the Lord or of Paul as a prisoner; join with Paul in suffering for the gospel (directed at Timothy).
Galatians 1:11-17 – Paul’s gospel was not made it up. It was divinely revealed to him by God. His teachings were not from man.

Teaching Points

1. Basically 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 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 us wrongly. If someone on the basketball court pushes me, God let him do so, maybe to build my patience. If a boss criticizes your work you know you did well, maybe it is God teaching you some humility. David was also a good example of this principle. When his enemy cursed him while on the run from Absalom, his people asked him for permission to kill this guy. Do you remember David’s answer? He said, maybe God asked him to curse him.

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.

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. We can learn the principle of stewardship from the parable of the talents. It was Paul’s duty to care for the gospel, make 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. See cross-references. The things he was teaching did not come from himself. They came directly from God. They were not his opinions or ideas. That means that 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 – Prophets longed to know what people saw during the time of Christ, but could not.
1 Peter 1:10-12 – Prophets studied and sought to know when Jesus would come and the things that would follow after, but could not because it was not revealed. Even angels didn’t fully understand it.

1. In Old Testament times, the concept that the Gentiles and Jews would be one was unknown. 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 NT 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 more information about God and His plan than perhaps 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:

Galatians 3:26-29 – All are sons of God through faith in Christ. No Jew nor Greek, slave nor free… in the body of Christ.
Romans 8:14-17 – If we live by the Spirit we are His sons and if we are His sons we are His heirs, heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ. This also requires sharing in His sufferings, not only glory.
Galatians 4:5-7 – We can receive full rights as sons and as sons also be heirs.
1 Corinthians 12:12-13 – The body is one and there are many members. We were all baptized into the same body whether Jew or Greek. We all have the same Spirit.
Colossians 1:21-22 – Once you were alienated from God and enemies, but now reconciled.
John 10:16 – Jesus had other sheep, not of that fold.
Genesis 12:3, Galatians 3:8 – God would bless all the families of the earth through Abraham. This was His plan from long before.
Colossians 2:9-15 – There is no distinction between Jew or Greek, slave or free, etc. Also application, put on a spirit of unity and compassion, etc.

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. This is really an amazing thing. 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. 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.

2. The world “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. Look at appropriate cross-references and discuss each of these. 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. This bond 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 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 – Grace was given to Paul so that he might be a minister of Christ Jesus proclaiming the gospel to the Gentiles.
2 Corinthians 4:1-2 – He was given this ministry by God’s mercy and therefore had to live up to a high standard as a good representative of the Lord.
1 Timothy 1:14-15 – Paul acknowledges the abundant grace poured out on him and admits he is the worst of all sinners.
Colossians 1:26 – This mystery had been hidden for ages, but is now disclosed in the saints.
Psalms 103:20, Ezekiel 3:12 – Angels, like believers, are praising the Lord.

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? Because 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. This magnifies God’s grace and power even more. 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, 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. This also shows an important principle and that is that the church as a whole 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 and today Macarthur 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. Ask yourself if you are a watcher or a participator. Are you part of the audience or one of the workers. Every believer is to be a worker. Are you bringing glory to God with your life?

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 14:24-27, Isaiah 46:10-11 – God’s purposes don’t change.
Ephesians 2:18 – Through Christ we have access to the Father.

Teaching Point

1. God’s purposes don’t change. Check out cross-references. 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 lose heart (12-13)

Cross-Reference

Hebrews 4:14-16 – Because of Christ’s work we can confidently draw near to the very throne of God to receive help in time of need.

Teaching Points

1. The application for the Ephesians is found in verse 13. Paul’s work was useful. It was important. God is sovereign and had a plan. Yes, Paul 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.

2. For us, we can also learn from this application.

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.

Study Ephesians 3:14-4:16

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