3:1For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you, the Gentiles — 3:2 If indeed you have heard of the stewardship of the grace of God which was given to me for you, That by revelation the mystery was made known to me, as I have written previously in brief, 3:4 By which, in reading it, you can perceive my understanding in the mystery of Christ, 3:5Which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in spirit, 3:6That in Christ Jesus the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the Body and fellow partakers of the promise through the gospel, 3:7Of which I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God which was given to me according to the operation of His power. 3:8 To me, less than the least of all saints, was this grace given to announce to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ as the gospel 3:9And to enlighten all that they may see what the economy of the mystery is, which throughout the ages has been hidden in God, who created all things, 3:10In order that now to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenlies the multifarious wisdom of God might be made known through the church, 3:11According to the eternal purpose which He made in Christ Jesus our Lord, 3:12In whom we have boldness and access in confidence through faith in Him. 3:13Therefore I ask you not to faint at my afflictions for your sake, since they are your glory. 3:14For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father, 3:15Of whom every family in the heavens and on earth is named, 3:16That He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit into the inner man, 3:17 That Christ may make His home in your hearts through faith, that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 3:18May be full of strength to apprehend with all the saints what the breadth and length and height and depth are 3:19 And to know the knowledge-surpassing love of Christ, that you may be filled unto all the fullness of God. 3:20But to Him who is able to do superabundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power which operates in us, 3:21To Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus unto all the generations forever and ever. Amen. 4:1I beseech you therefore, I, the prisoner in the Lord, to walk worthily of the calling with which you were called,
Ephesians Chapter 3:2-21 are a parenthesis, and Ephesians 4:1 is a continuation of 3:1. In this parenthetical, beseeching word, the Apostle Paul described to the Gentile believers his ministry for them, a ministry which he received in the stewardship of grace through the revelation of the mystery of Christ. He also prayed in this parenthesis that the church might experience Christ to the fullest extent.
In this message we shall consider the stewardship of the grace of God. Paul says in Ephesians 3:2, “If indeed you have heard of the stewardship of the grace of God which was given to me for you.” In Greek, the word rendered “stewardship” in this verse is the same word rendered “dispensation” in Ephesian 1:10 and 3:9. The stewardship of the grace is the dispensing of the grace of God into God’s chosen people for the producing and building up of the church. Out of this stewardship comes the ministry of the apostle, who is a steward in God’s house, ministering Christ as God’s grace to God’s household.
The Greek word translated “stewardship” in verse 2 is “oikonomia.” According to ancient usage, oikonomia denoted a stewardship, a dispensation, or an administration. At the time of Paul, many rich families had stewards whose responsibility was to distribute food and other necessities to members of the household. Our Father has a great family, a divine household. Because our Father has such vast riches, there is the need in His household for many stewards to dispense these riches to His children. This dispensing is the stewardship. Hence, a stewardship is a dispensation. The word “dispensation” here does not denote an age or means by which God deals with people; it refers to God’s dispensing of His riches into His chosen ones. This dispensation is the stewardship with the dispensing ministry of the ministers of God. This ministry of dispensing is also God’s administration. Today God administrates by dispensing Himself into us. This stewardship, this dispensation, this administration, is God’s economy. In the New Testament economy of God there is the desperate need for the stewardship of grace.
I. THE STEWARD—A PRISONER
In order to have such a stewardship, there is the need of stewards. Every apostle is a steward of God. As an apostle, Paul was a steward who dispensed the riches of God to His children.
A. Of Christ Jesus
Although Paul was a steward, in Ephesians 3:1 he referred to himself as “the prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you, the Gentiles.” The Apostle Paul considered himself the prisoner of Christ. Apparently he was confined in a physical prison; actually he was imprisoned in Christ. On the basis of such a status, the status of his actual living as a prisoner in Christ, he besought the saints. In releasing the revelation of God’s mystery concerning the church in Chapters one and two, Paul spoke on the basis of his status as the apostle of Christ through the will of God. That status was the authority of his revelation concerning the church. In beseeching the saints to walk worthily of God’s calling, he spoke from his status as the prisoner of the Lord. His status as the apostle of Christ qualified him to release God’s revelation, whereas his status as the prisoner of the Lord demonstrated his walk in the Lord, by which he could inspire and beseech the saints to walk in the Lord as he did.
Paul considered himself the prisoner of Christ because he had been imprisoned by Christ. Later, in Ephesians 4:1 he refers to himself as “the prisoner in the Lord.” Christ was Paul’s prison. One day, the very Christ whom you love will become your prison. Sooner or later, every steward of God, every minister of God’s riches, every faithful lover of Christ, will be imprisoned not only by Christ but also in Christ. The more you love Him, the more you will be in Him. Eventually, you will be in Him to such an extent that He will become your prison. Once you are placed in this prison, you will not want to get out, because you will love this prison very much. Here you enjoy Christ to the uttermost.
Everyone who loves the Bible has a high regard for the Epistle to the Ephesians. It would be a great loss for us not to have this book in the New Testament, for Ephesians contains the highest revelation in the Bible. This revelation was given to a man imprisoned in Christ, a man who enjoyed Christ as his prison. This indicates that in order to see something so heavenly and divine, we need to be a prisoner in the Lord. The more freedom we have, the more blind we are. But if Christ is our prison, our eyes will be opened to see the heavenly vision, and we shall receive the highest revelation.
B. On Behalf of the Saints
Paul saw this vision on behalf of the saints, for as he says in Ephesians 3:1, he was a prisoner on behalf of the Gentiles. If we enjoy Christ as our prison, we also shall see a vision not for ourselves, but for the church.
Many Christians read Ephesians again and again without seeing the revelation contained in it because they are not imprisoned in Christ. They are too free, and their freedom makes them blind. But if you are willing to lose your freedom, the vision will come to you. Which do you prefer to have—the freedom or the vision? We all need to pray, “Lord, for the sake of the heavenly vision, I am willing to lose my freedom. Lord, I want to be imprisoned in You. Others may think that I am suffering, but when I am imprisoned in You, I enjoy You to the uttermost.” The enjoyment of being imprisoned in Christ enables us to receive the heavenly revelation.
No doubt, there are precious truths in all the books of the Bible. But the sweetest and deepest truths are in Ephesians. These truths are conveyed in heavenly utterances such as, “Be strengthened into the inner man,” “Are renewed in the spirit of the mind,” and “Be filled unto all the fullness of God.” These heavenly expressions were uttered by one who saw a vision as a prisoner in Christ. While he was imprisoned in Christ, Paul saw what it was to be strengthened into the inner man, to be renewed in the spirit of the mind, and to be filled unto all the fullness of God. In principle, it is the same with us today. Whenever we enjoy freedom outside of Christ, we lose our spiritual sight. But if we are willing to abide in Christ as our prison, the vision will come, and our sight will be restored. The heavens will be open to us, and everything will become crystal clear.
In Ephesians Chapter 3 the Apostle Paul had a very high vision. It was in this chapter that he used the term “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesian 3:8). What Paul saw regarding this is far beyond our understanding. Not even Paul himself had words adequate to express it. Eventually, he could speak only of the breadth and length and depth and height (Ephesians 3:18). These dimensions, which are the dimensions of Christ, are actually the dimensions of the universe. As he was confined and restricted in a prison, Paul had a vision of the universal dimensions of Christ. Although you may consider yourself a little brother or sister, you also will see something on behalf of the church if you are willing to be a prisoner in Christ.
II. THE STEWARDSHIP OF THE GRACE
A. The Stewardship
The stewardship of the grace is the dispensing of the riches of Christ. According to the context of chapter three, grace refers to the riches of Christ. When the riches of Christ are enjoyed by you, they become grace. Paul’s ministry was to dispense the riches of Christ as grace to the believers. A stewardess on an airplane dispenses food to the passengers; she does not dispense information on how to cook. Likewise, the Apostle Paul dispensed the riches of Christ to the saints. This is what we are doing in the ministry today.
1. According to God’s Economy
This stewardship is according to God’s economy. With God it is a matter of economy; with us it is a matter of stewardship. All the saints, no matter how insignificant they may seem to be, have a stewardship according to God’s economy. This means that every saint can infuse Christ into others. Even a young sister in high school can dispense Christ into her classmates. This dispensing of Christ into others is the stewardship according to God’s economy.
In the past we have pointed out that the heavens are for the earth, that the earth is for man, and that man is for God. The desire of God’s heart is to dispense Himself into man. The heavens and the earth are for this dispensing. This is the central point of the whole Bible. God does not want to remain in Himself; He wants to get into us. Therefore, in eternity past He purposed to dispense Himself into us. For the fulfillment of this purpose, God created the heavens for the earth, the earth for man, and man for Himself. God’s economy is to carry out the dispensing of Himself into man. We share in this economy through our stewardship, our ministry of dispensing the riches of Christ. Therefore, the stewardship of the grace is according to God’s economy. The Apostle Paul was not the only one with a stewardship. In Ephesians 3:8 he refers to himself as “less than the least of all saints.” This indicates that Paul was even smaller than we are. Our concept needs to be radically changed. If Paul could be a steward, then we also can be stewards and dispense the riches of Christ into others.
2. For God’s Dispensation
This stewardship of the grace is for God’s dispensation. We have seen that the desire of God’s heart is to dispense His riches, which actually are Himself, into His chosen people. After these riches have been dispensed into us, we need to take up the burden to dispense them into others. With God, these riches are His economy; with us, they are the stewardship; and when they are dispensed by us into others, they are God’s dispensation. When God’s economy reaches us, it becomes our stewardship. When we carry out our stewardship by dispensing Christ into others, it becomes the dispensation of God into them. Hence, we have the economy, the stewardship, and the dispensation.
Our concept of preaching the gospel needs to be uplifted. We should not be concerned merely with winning souls. Rather, we should preach the gospel to carry out God’s economy by dispensing God into others. Go to school or to work for the purpose of carrying out your stewardship according to God’s economy for His dispensation. We are not doing an ordinary work of gospel preaching. We are dispensing God into man. What a glorious ministry! What a wonderful stewardship! Praise the Lord that we all have such a stewardship! We have the privilege of dispensing the unsearchable riches of Christ into others.
B. The Grace
Since our stewardship is the stewardship of the grace, we need to see what grace is. John 1:17 says that grace came through Jesus Christ. During the time of the Old Testament, there was law, but not grace. Grace did not come until Christ came.
Many Christians think that grace refers mainly to material blessings. But the Bible indicates that grace did not come before Christ. However, God certainly bestowed material blessings on His people before Christ came. Grace is nothing less than God Himself given to us, gained by us, and enjoyed by us. Before Christ came, God could not be given to anyone. No one could receive God or enjoy Him. But in Christ and through Christ we receive God, and God becomes our enjoyment. Therefore, grace is God Himself as our enjoyment. The stewardship of grace is the dispensing of God into people to be their enjoyment. Dispensing this grace into others is our stewardship according to God’s economy. Because we partake of God as our enjoyment, we can dispense Him as grace into others. This is the dispensation of grace.
III. THE MINISTRY OF A MINISTER
In Ephesians 3:7 Paul says that he became a minister. In the New Testament there is just one ministry, which is the stewardship, the dispensing of God into people. The word “minister” corresponds to the word “steward,” for a steward is one who serves by dispensing the necessities of life to others. Not only the brothers who minister the Word of God or the elders who care for the local building are ministers, but every saint, every member of the church, has a part in the ministry. Do not be cheated by the traditional concept and think that you are not a minister. A minister is simply one who serves. A minister of the gospel serves people with the gospel. If a young sister ministers Christ to her mother, she is carrying out the New Testament ministry. All the saints must be bold to declare that they are ministers. We must not only speak this but put it into practice. Young people, go to your parents and minister Christ to them. I encourage you all to fulfill this ministry. Although there may be thousands of saints in the Lord’s recovery, there is just one ministry, the dispensing of the riches of Christ into others. Hallelujah for this glorious ministry!
A. According to the Gift of the Grace of God
Our ministry is according to the gift of the grace of God. To say that grace is God for our enjoyment means that grace is God as our life and life supply (1 Corinthians 15:10; 2 Corinthians 12:9). This life supply operates within us. By means of this operating life, we have a certain ability, which is the gift. Therefore, in Ephesians 3:7 Paul speaks of being a minister “according to the gift of the grace of God.”
All the saints have such a gift, such an ability. For example, my hand has the ability to grasp objects. This ability comes from the life blood in my body. If the blood does not flow into my hand, my hand will be short of life and therefore will not be able to function. But when the life blood flows into my hand, the blood operates within the hand to give it the ability to function. As members of Christ, we all have the life of God operating within us to produce a certain ability. This ability is the gift that makes us ministers to impart Christ to others.
B. To Preach the Unsearchable Riches of Christ as the Gospel
Our ministry is to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ as the gospel. It is not to present doctrine, [religion] nor simply to teach the Word in letters. Our gospel is a Person with all His riches. To preach such a gospel is to minister the riches of Christ to others.
C. For Producing the Church
This ministry is for producing the church. The ministry of the Apostle Paul as God’s steward was to bring forth the church by dispensing the unsearchable riches of Christ as grace into the believers. Paul’s ministry was not only to save sinners, but to produce the church for the fulfillment of God’s eternal purpose. This was the goal of his stewardship of grace.
D. By Revelation of the Mystery in Spirit
According to Ephesians 3:3 and 5, our ministry is by the revelation of the mystery in spirit. The mystery of God is Christ, and the mystery of Christ is the church. As long as we have seen Christ as the mystery of God and the church as the mystery of Christ, we have the revelation of the mystery in our spirit. This enables us to minister Christ to others. This is a matter in our regenerated spirit which is indwelt by the Spirit of God.
Verses are taken from The Recovery Version of the Holy Bible and Words of Ministry from Witness Lee, The Crystallization-Study of the Gospel of God, Volume One. [With some portions of enlightenment and inspiration.] Both are published by Living Stream Ministry, Anaheim, CA. All Rights Reserved.