By Semi-Retired Pastor Jeremy Stopford

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.”

Ephesians 3:1-7 (NKJV)

   A number of years ago in my first pastoral charge there was a family which, like me, were (and still are!) avid Miami Dolphins fans (what else?). 

One Sunday night I inadvertently revealed the end of a mystery without intending too.  My neighbor Bill, the Dolphin fan, had taped that afternoon’s Miami/Philadelphia game, which game I had watched live.  He called me to say, “Hey!  After the kids get home from Youth Group, do you want to watch the Dolphin game with me?”.  Of course, knowing that they had already lost the game, I replied with a slight moan, “no, not really”.  Oops!  I spoiled Bill’s viewing of the game because HE didn’t know who had won or lost! I revealed the mystery to him.

   The book of Ephesians reveals a “mystery”.   Unlike our novels [or my Miami game score], the Biblical view of a “mystery” is “that which being outside the range of unassisted natural apprehension, can be made known only by divine revelation”.  Neat, huh?  It can only be revealed when God wants it to be made known.  AND it can only be made known to those enabled by His Holy Spirit.

   Verses 5-7 above reveal the time frame of the mystery.  Up until the book of Acts, there were few Gentiles “saved”, that is, part of God’s family through faith in Jesus the Savior.  The early church was made up mainly of converted Jews – those who recognized Jesus as their Messiah and Savior!   Now, Paul is revealing a new thing!  He is sharing the MYSTERY that Gentiles were now a part of God’s economy – a revelation which at that time was…HUGE!

   We’re interested today in looking at the servant of the mystery, the one whom God uses.  Let’s look at his description:

   First, he was a PRISONER (verse 1).  There are various identifications of a “prisoner”.  He could be a “violator of the law”.  When I worked for the local police department, I used to take school children on tours of the police headquarters building.  They looked forward to two things:  blowing the siren on the squad car AND going into the jail!  (Don’t ask me why about the second desire!).  Maybe it was my old nature, but when they got inside the jail cell, I would SLAM the door shut and hold it tight.  The little urchins would SCREAM!  Now THAT was fun!  The result was that they never wanted to be in a jail cell again!  Many a youth was saved from being a “violator of the law” by the slamming of a jail cell. 

   But the Bible also talks about the “prisoner of sin”.  Christian author Chuck Swindoll told the story of a young man who was put in jail.  Throughout this ordeal, the man experienced many variations of treatment:  from being sent to jail, to being abused in jail, and finally being released from jail.  While he was in jail, he came to know Jesus as Savior through its prison ministry.  And then?  Pastor Swindoll tells how the man wanted to go BACK to the jail – not as a prisoner, but as one set free who could be used to aid others to be set free from being a “prisoner of sin”!

   And the prisoner to which Paul was referring was himself.  Yet in jail he called himself a “prisoner of the Lord”!  Though in jail in Rome, he states he was not Rome’s prisoner but rather God’s prisoner.  In all circumstances, Paul was God’s prisoner, so that he could be used for God.  The circumstances made no difference, only the power of God and the submission to that power.  

   Now perhaps we can understand Romans 8:35-36:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  36 As it is written:For Your sake we are killed all day long;
We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”

   Paul writes that he was not only a prisoner; he was an INSTRUMENT (verse 2). 

   An “instrument” is a tool which left by itself is of no value.   For Christmas one year my wife gave me a wonderful vice for my workbench.  I immediately attached it and dreamed about all the good that I could do with this new instrument of help.  However, over the course of time, you know what happened!  Like many tables, the workbench got covered with STUFF:  tools not put away, unfinished projects, and the like.  The “instrument” designed to be a big help was now…USELESS!

   Paul was conscious that he was simply an instrument, a vessel through whom God could work on behalf of others.  Here are two verses which describe being God’s instrument:

Romans 6:13:  “And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.”

Romans 12:1:   “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.”

   The servant of the mystery of God is also a “READER” (verses 3-4).  Note in verse 4 Paul writes “WHEN you read” not “IF you read”.  Nor was this an incident of the past, as “when you read a long time ago”, but rather “WHEN YOU READ” in the very near future.  Paul fully expected that what he wrote to be diligently, deliberately, routinely, habitually, and daily READ.  

   Paul was a reader, taught of Gamaliel (Acts 5:34; 22:3).  Paul learned to be a student of God’s Word even when he wasn’t a Christian.  How much more should we be!

   Can you imagine God giving His Word and no one reading it?  

   Can you imagine God’s riches available to us WHEN we read God’s Word?

   Finally, the servant of the mystery of God is a CARETAKER (verses 5-7).  He is a caretaker of the “effective  working of His [God’s] power”.  

   In today’s business world we have what are known as “efficiency experts” (known by many titles).  They come in to a business as an outsider, and objectively (for the right fee!) tell what is working and what is not working in that business.  After he leaves, the company often takes his advice and makes changes, even though often the company was doing ok before.

   The key here is that God has called us to be caretakers of the gospel of grace.  And when used, it will be effective!  Listen carefully:

Romans 1:16:  “[the gospel of Christ] is the power of God unto salvation”

Romans 10:17:  “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God”

Hebrews 4:12:  “the word of God is LIVING and POWERFUL…”

   If we use it, if we are a proper caretaker of the Word, then the Spirit of God will use it through us!

   Like Paul, we are to be vessels connected richly and regularly with the Word of God.  We are to be an INSTRUMENT, a READER, a CARETAKER.

   But all that means nothing if we first are not a PRISONER OF CHRIST!

By faith we belong to Jesus by the power of the cross…

By surrender, we belong to Jesus as His prisoner for His glory!

Have you said with John the Baptist (John 3:30):

HE must increase, but I must decrease” !!!