Sabbath School Lesson for July 29-August 4, 2023

Overview of Lesson 6, The Mystery of the Gospel

Memory Text: “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!” Ephesians 3:20, 21 NIV

What to expect:

  • Sunday: Paul, Imprisoned Apostle to the Gentiles, Why does Paul call himself a prisoner of Christ Jesus?
  • Monday: The Long-Hidden Mystery of the Gospel, What is the mystery that Paul has been called to preach?
  • Tuesday: The Church, Revealer of God’s Wisdom, How do we appear in our own eyes, as we draw nearer to Christ?
  • Wednesday: Christ, Dwelling in Your Heart, What does Paul pray about and desire most for the church?
  • Thursday: Glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus, What does Paul praise God for at the end of his prayer?

At the end of chapter 2 in Ephesians, Paul promotes Christ as the cornerstone of the church, which consists now of Jew and Gentile believers. Chapter 3 reveals the immense mystery involved in the formation of this gospel-believing dwelling place for God that the Spirit has made possible.

The mystery of the Gentiles now being co-heirs, equal recipients of God’s grace, continues to amaze Paul and his Jewish friends. They formerly could not fathom the depth, height, length, and width of God’s love that made this relationship with Gentiles possible.

Despite overwhelming hardships in a Roman prison, Paul continues his ministry by inviting them to feel the passion he has for the gospel. He lovingly shares the purpose of this “mystery” and inspires appreciation for what it has done for the whole universe. God’s power that works within us will bring glory to Christ Jesus for “all generations, forever and ever” (Ephesians 3:21).

Sunday: Paul, Imprisoned Apostle to the Gentiles

Paul begins this third chapter by reminding them once again of his present circumstances as a prisoner, but with an interesting twist. He calls himself a “prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles” (Ephesians 3:1).

There was much social disgrace for anyone associated with someone under arrest in the Roman culture back then. The Romans did not use their prisons as a form of punishment as we do today, however. You were held in prison only while waiting for your trial or execution. That’s why Paul’s punishment led to his being under house arrest, with all the restrictions placed on him, but most of all the stigma that caused you to feel estranged from all those you cared about. The emotional impact could be crushing.

Paul, however, refused to focus on his physical and emotional limitations. He saw his suffering as part of his service to God. Everything that might be considered a negative in his life was instead just part of God’s plan. God’s grace was enough for him to endure anything if it brought glory to His Savior.

Bible Verses:

Ephesians 3:1-3

  • In what way was Paul a prisoner of Jesus Christ and not the Roman government?
  • How did Paul feel about being a prisoner for this reason?

Ephesians 3:13, 14

  • How can our tribulations become our glory?
  • How can we keep hope alive when we suffer trials?

Monday: The Long-Hidden Mystery of the Gospel

Many points at the beginning of Ephesians 3 help us understand the mystery Paul wants us to recognize and appreciate.

  1. This part of his letter was written expressly for the Gentile believers (Ephesians 3:1).
  2. Paul was commissioned to preach God’s grace to the Gentiles (Ephesians 3:2).
  3. Paul did not invent this mystery of Christ. It came from God (Ephesians 3:3, 4 and 1:9, 10).
  4. The Spirit revealed the mystery of the gospel to the apostles and prophets (Ephesians 3:5).
  5. The Gentiles can rest assured that they are “co-heirs” with their Jewish counterparts (Ephesians 3:6).

God’s will is for everyone in God’s church to be transformed from being enemies with each other to being fellow heirs. This accomplishment is considered by Paul to be the mystery of the gospel of Christ.

Bible Verses:

Ephesians 3:5, Revelation 21:12-14

  • Who is meant by the apostles and prophets?
  • How were both apostles and prophets active in preaching the mystery of Christ, before and after His birth?

Tuesday: The  Church, Revealer of God’s Wisdom

Paul refers to himself as a minister who has received the gift of God’s grace (Ephesians 3:7).  But in the next verse he tells us that he is “the least of all the saints” (Ephesians 3:8). 1 Timothy 1:15 even informs us that he considered himself to be the “chief” or worst “of sinners”.

We find this same shifting of identity several times in Paul’s letters. At one point, he sees himself as a “divinely appointed apostle” (Galatians 1:1), but later he modifies this by saying he is the least of the apostles (1 Corinthians 15:9).

One author, Ellen White, explains this vacillation of identity by pointing out that “The closer you come to Jesus, the more faulty you will appear in your own eyes.” (Steps to Christ, p. 64) Our vision of ourselves becomes clearer when we see the pure, holy nature of our Lord. The contrast can’t help but clarify our understanding of our own station in life as much lowlier than we at one time may have believed.

Ephesians 3:10-12 mentioned that God’s wisdom is made known to “the principalities and powers in the heavenly places”. We understand who these powers are later in Paul’s letter when he talked about them in Ephesians 6:12. They are spiritual hosts of wickedness, who witness the work of the church in spreading God’s wisdom to the world.

Bible Verses:

Ephesians 3:7, 8, 1 Timothy 1:15, Galatians 1:1, and 1 Corinthians 15:9

  • Why do you think Paul shifts his description of himself so often?

Ephesians 3:10, 11 and 6:12

  • Who are the “principalities and powers in heavenly places”, and why does God want them to know God’s wisdom through the work of the church?

Wednesday: Christ, Dwelling in Your Heart

Paul once again prays a comforting prayer for the church in Ephesus. He asks…

  • that God would strengthen their families through His Spirit,
  • that Christ would dwell in their hearts, grounding them in His love, and
  • that they would be able to comprehend the immense love of God.

We can know that our families here on earth, despite their imperfections and shortcomings, can be in God’s hands, and not in the cruel grip of fate. God desires that all come to Him, and He does all He can to show us His love. The vast width and length, depth and height of God’s love is almost beyond our imagination.

Bible Verses:

Ephesians 3:14-19 and 1:16-19

  • How would you feel if Paul prayed both of these prayers at your church?
  • What are some of the things he prayed for?

Thursday: Glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus

Paul’s prayers for those in Ephesus can be a source of encouragement for all who experience difficulty, suffering, temptations, or doubts. He brings us hope that no matter what our current problems are, God has a plan for resolving them. His power works for and through us. Our families are lovingly watched over by a God who cares about them as much as we do.

No wonder Paul often ends his prayers with a note of joyful celebration for God’s continuing work in us. His doxology (Ephesians 3:20, 21) inspires us to hold on and look to Christ as the wonderful Savior that He is.

Two questions may arise from Paul’s prayer at the end of Ephesians 3.

  1. When Paul prayed that God works through His power in the church and in Christ Jesus, is he elevating the work of the church as equal to Christ? An answer for this may be found in Ephesians 3:17-19 where it is clear that it is only through the power of Christ that His church can know God’s love.
  2. Does our praise that continues for “all generations forever and ever” mean that our earthbound existence with our families never ends? But Ephesians 4:30 mentions a day of redemption, and Ephesians 1:21 talks about an age to come. We, therefore, are made to understand that our situation will change at some point in our future, that there is a future age and a day of redemption to look forward to.

Bible Verses:

Ephesians 3:20, 21

  • How does Christ and the church work together–in other words, how does His power work in us?
  • How long and where will we be praising God and bringing Him glory?

Friday: Final Thoughts

This mystery of the gospel that brings Jews and Gentiles together poses questions about the church’s relationship with Israel. The traditional view is that Israel was God’s covenant nation at one time, but after the Jews rejected Jesus as the Messiah, they were replaced by the church of the New Testament. This is why it’s widely believed that there are two separate covenants or dispensations, two paths to salvation, for Israel and later the Christian church.

Paul seems to see the situation a bit differently, however, when he mentioned in Ephesians 3:5 that, through the Spirit, both “apostles and prophets” had been shown this mystery. He tends to see a continuity of our relationship with Old Testament Israel, leading to a more robust fulfillment of God’s promises for those in the New Testament church era.

There was obviously a remnant of Israel who did not reject Christ, with many of them joining the Christian church that the apostles promoted. This is why it was Paul’s habit to first preach in the synagogues of the Jews in the territories he visited. Many remnant Israelites joined Paul’s new community of believers that included Gentiles.

This remnant assures us that there is continuity and unity between Israel and the church. Gentiles, together with remnant Jews who accepted Christ, enjoyed a covenant with God that has always been meant for all nations of the earth.

Next Week: The Unified Body of Christ

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