Menu Keys

On-Going Mini-Series

Bible Studies

Codes & Descriptions

Class Codes
[a] = summary lessons
[b] = exegetical analysis
[c] = topical doctrinal studies
What is a Mini-Series?
A Mini-Series is a small subset of lessons from a major series which covers a particular subject or book. The class numbers will be in reference to the major series rather than the mini-series.

Scripture References

Scripture references on this site can be viewed by hovering your mouse cursor over the reference to see a pop-up window with the verse displayed. If you wish to use a different version of the Bible, you can make that selection below.


Bible Options


If you have Logos Bible Study Software installed, you can check Libronix to bring the scripture reference up in Logos.

Ephesians 3:1 by Robert Dean
Why does Paul mention being a prisoner of the Lord Jesus Christ for the sake of the Gentiles? Listen to this lesson to learn two reasons for this and the unusual word he uses here. Find out why Paul says no one should be upset about his being in prison and hear three calls for believers. Remember that when adverse events disrupt our plans that God is in control.
Series:Ephesians (2018)
Duration:58 mins 53 secs

A Prisoner for the Sake of the Gospel
Ephesians 3:1
Ephesians Lesson #084
September 20, 2020
Dr. Robert L. Dean, Jr.

Opening Prayer

“Our Father, we are so thankful that we can come together in freedom to worship You, to put our focus and attention upon You, to recognize that You are the God of all creation. You created all of the creation: all of the land, all of the sea, all of the air, all of the planets and stars.

“You have created all things, and You have a right to rule over these things, but in Your wisdom and in Your desire to have creatures who willingly love You, You have created creatures—angels and man, who have volition and responsibility, who can choose to serve You out of their desire.

“Father, we are thankful that we come to understand this, and we can recognize that there is an important need to proclaim the gospel to others that they may learn of Your love for us, of sending Christ to die for us, and that they too may follow that choice.

“But once we’ve made that choice, Father, as we study in Ephesians, there’s so much more to it than simply being saved and knowing that our destiny is heaven. But that we have a life, a purpose, a destiny to fulfill here on the earth as members of this glorious new creation, the Church, and all that You have set forth for us in the Church.

“Father, we pray that as we continue our study in Ephesians 2–3, as Paul continues to teach us about the glories of this new creation, that we may understand how this should transform our understanding of who we are at our very core and all that You desire us to do and have provided for us as we continue this study. In Christ’s name, amen.”

Slide 2

Open your Bibles to Ephesians 3, where we’re starting today in continuing our study of Ephesians. The focal point today may surprise you.

Slide 3

The beginning of Ephesians 3 is understanding the significance of what Paul says, that he is “Paul the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles.” He is a prisoner in Rome because of his gospel ministry.

That’s about as far as a lot of pastors will for these phrases where Paul mentions that he is a prisoner for the sake of the Gentiles; he is a prisoner for Christ. They don’t go much beyond that. What we see here will take us into a realization of all the baggage that goes with that particular phrase, and why Paul uses it here at the beginning of Ephesians 3:1.

It’s interesting that as we sang our hymn, “The Church’s One Foundation,” it just hit me that in Ephesians 3:2, he had to have been thinking through Ephesians as he wrote much of it. It alludes to that which is in Ephesians.

By way of review: if we think about what we have studied in Ephesians 2:11–22 the focus is on what God has done in this new creation. That phrase the “new creation” comes out of Ephesians 2:10. We frequently quote Ephesians 2:8–9 at the beginning of our class, then in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are His workmanship …”

That seems a somewhat cumbersome term in modern language. It’s a somewhat antiquated term; not one we use every day. We might translate it “craftsmanship,” but it’s the idea that we are a creation of God. It’s not that we’re just a creation, we are the creation of God that He has created the Church. This makes all of those who are part of that corporate entity “the Church” to have this incredible identity, that we’re part of a special creation from God.

God is perfect. He can create nothing less than perfect. God is the Master Craftsman, the Master Artist. There’s no one who can create anything more artistic, more beautiful, more glorious, more grand than God, and that’s who we are as the Church. That’s all packed into this word that is simply translated “workmanship,” but it is so much more than what most of us think of when we read that.

As we studied our way through Ephesians 2, we focused on certain themes. He starts off reminding his readers, reminding the Gentiles, that they were separate from Israel. Ephesians 2:12, “you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel.”

“Without Christ” doesn’t mean they were not saved. But we use it that way: “do you have Christ” or “do you not have Christ,” and we mean saved or unsaved. That’s not what he meant. It meant they didn’t have a Messiah: they had no messianic heritage, no messianic promise, no messianic prophecy.

They were without that hope, which is why he goes on to say they’re “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, strangers from the covenants of promise …” Because the focal point of the promise is what he says next: that they have no hope.

The promises give us hope. The promises gave Israel hope. The promises were embedded in the Mosaic Law, which is the foundation of the commonwealth of Israel. As a result of not having any of those things, they were Godless; they were without God. They worshiped many gods, but they were without “God in the world.”

Ephesians 2:13, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near—that is who we are; we “have been brought near by the blood of Christ—by the death of Christ.”

We studied that and saw that in the next section Paul talks about the fact that he has made us both one in Ephesians 2:14. “Both” have been made one; going forward from there he talks about “one:” “One” describes Jew and Gentile together. Where before there was a distinction, now there’s a unity.

He identifies this new entity as, in Ephesians 2:15, “one new man from the two.” One.

Ephesians 2:16, “that He might reconcile them both in one body.” We’re one new man, we’re one body.

Ephesians 2:18, “we both have access by one—that is, the same—Spirit.”

That becomes the foundation for understanding Ephesians 4, where Paul shifts gears from understanding what we have in Christ to who we are in Christ and all that God has given us in Christ to begin talking about what we are to do with that. That gives us an obligation as a result of what God has done for us. He moves to what is often called the “application stage.”

After we learn all these things that are ours in Christ in this unity, he then says in Ephesians 4:4, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”

Look at this verse in “the Church’s One Foundation:”

Elect from every nation—choice, that is—yet one o’er all the earth—that’s the Church—her charter of salvation one Lord, one faith, one birth.” It comes right out of Ephesians 4:5. One holy name she blesses, partakes one holy food and to one hope she presses.” That’s the one hope that Jew and Gentile together both have in Christ.

I just was thinking about that as I sang; that it was absolutely marvelous how he put all of that together.

A little review as to where we are. As Paul taught them and walks them through the basis for this new entity, the basis is Christ’s finished work on the Cross; it is through His death. Through Him by means of His blood this new entity is brought into existence by God. All three members of the Trinity are involved: the Father, of course; the Son, obviously; and the Holy Spirit, which we’ve studied over the last several weeks.

Paul concludes what he has said in Ephesians 2:11-18 by focusing on this new reality. Ephesians 2:19, “Now, therefore, you—that is, you Gentiles—are no longer strangers and foreigners—which he talked about in Ephesians 2:11—but fellow citizens …” With the Jews, with Israel, with the saved Jews, not the Jews of the Old Testament.

Because here he’s talking about the New Testament believers, those who are truly of Israel. Initially, as we studied in Ephesians 1, when Paul talks about “we,” he’s talking about “we Jews who were first saved,” Acts 2–10. In Acts 10 the gospel went to the Gentiles and there’s this equivalence of Jew and Gentile together in Christ.

We’re “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God …” You can’t think that the household of God includes Old Testament saints, because the household of God is built on what? The foundation of the apostles and prophets.

This isn’t prophets and apostles. We will see this phrase again in the third chapter. It is apostles—Church Age apostles; there is no apostle in the Old Testament; and prophets—New Testament prophets. But it’s not built upon them individually as persons. This is one of those figures of speech where you have something or someone that is in a relationship to something else. It’s a figure of speech of substitution where you put one thing for something else.

For example, you may hear a news announcer say something like, “Well, the Pentagon said today.” Well, the Pentagon is a building; it doesn’t speak. So what is it associated with? It’s associated with the leadership of the military. That is really what it’s talking about. It’s just a figure of speech of substitution.

This isn’t talking about the apostles and prophets individually as persons, it is talking about what they did. The figure of substitution is a metonymy, a technical term. It simply means what the apostles and prophets did. What did they do? They received revelation from God, they communicated that revelation, and that which God intended for the ages was inscripturated.

It is the teaching, the doctrine: that which they communicated to us, the revelation of God. The foundation of the Church is the truth of God’s Word. This comes up as a major theme, a major teaching that Paul will develop in Ephesians 3:2–12.

Interestingly, when we get to Ephesians 3, he doesn’t really start off talking about this revelation. Instead he talks about himself, and begins with, “For this reason …” What does he mean by, “For this reason?” Why is this important?

It’s a transition phrase that is somewhat similar to “therefore.” It is based on everything he has said in Ephesians 2. In light of everything that he has just talked about. In light of the fact that Gentiles are now united together with Jews in the body of Christ. That’s the new revelation; it’s very clear. That was never true prior to the Day of Pentecost.

In the Old Testament God’s plan was to work specifically through a set-apart people, the Jewish people. But even as Paul recognizes in Romans 9, not all Israel was Israel, not all were saved, but all were part of God’s covenant people. Now that is not the significant issue. The significant issue is being in Christ, being in the Church.

Slide 4

Paul starts off, “For this reason,” which in the Greek is an unusual way of saying this. There are other ways that Paul would say this, two of which are predominant. This is a little bit different in the way he expresses it. We need to look at it first in terms of the phrase and then in terms of its significance.

This is one of those times, as we get ready to look at this section, Ephesians 3:13, we need to think about what is going on because it’s a very complex structure. In fact, Ephesians 3:1–12 is all one sentence—another one of those long sentences.

With Paul, it’s really easy to get lost in his long sentences. That’s why most translations break them up into two or three sentences, so it’s easier; they’re smaller bites that we can get a hold of. But as I taught you over the years, you lose something by doing that. You lose the fact that in Paul’s thinking—that is in the mind of God the Holy Spirit who is revealing this truth to us through Paul—this is all ultimately one integrated thought.

Here’s a question for you. What’s the thought? That’s what pastors have to wrestle with, is “Okay, I’ve got one thought here because it’s one sentence, but there’s this huge interruption. Look at the end of Ephesians 3:1. There’s a long dash there, an em dash. That tells you that he’s going to say something, then break with what he is saying, and then he will say something else, but they’re not totally unrelated.

A lot of people say, “Oh well, Paul’s like the rest of us. We start talking about one thing, we get excited, we get diverted in our minds, and next thing you know we’ve got this long train of thought going, and then we say, ‘What was I was talking about? Where was I going with all of that?’”

But that’s not happening here, because God the Holy Spirit never has to say that, and Paul’s not saying that. There is a reason for what he states at the beginning of Ephesians 3:1 and then breaks with it. Because he is talking about who he is, the fact that he’s a prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles.

On the surface that appears to have nothing to do with what went on in Ephesians 2:1–22 or even going back to the first chapter. What does this sentence have to do with what is going on? It has a couple of things to do with what is going on, and that’s why we need to just have this kind of a little flyover here to understand this significance within the context.

Paul uses this phrase, “For this reason,” then there’s a break at the end of Ephesians 3:1. Then we will find that we have that same identical phrase in the Greek in Ephesians 3:14. You want to link those together because he breaks his thought at the end of Ephesians 3:1, and he comes back to it in Ephesians 3:14. Everything in between is related in some way to this main thought. We have to wrestle with the particular structure there.

One thing I ought to point out is, when he makes this statement, “For this reason,” he doesn’t use the normal word, he says “this,” that’s the first word TOUTOU. But that second word CHARIN, is an extremely unusual phrase. In fact, he doesn’t use it in this way again. So, you ought to ask, why does he break with his normal way of saying these things?

Slide 5

He says it twice: Ephesians 3:1 and Ephesians 3:14. There are liberals who say, “See, Paul never uses this anywhere else, so that means Paul didn’t write this. This is somebody else.” Because they start with the presupposition that God has nothing to do with writing of the New Testament is why they go there.

We ought to ask ourselves, “Why is this happening?” I think it’s for a couple different reasons; I think that it’s related to his purpose. This isn’t just something random, but Paul wants to catch our attention, so he says it in a slightly different way. He uses CHARIN for a couple of reasons.

First of all, I think that it’s to get our attention because this phrase is somewhat antiquated. You might hear somebody say, “This is an example of Attic Greek,” which they spoke in Athens during Classical Greek times. It is and it isn’t. It was an idiom in Classical Greek, but just as we have idioms in English, it’s an idiom that survived for 500 years. It doesn’t mean that Paul is necessarily conscious of saying something that has anything to do with Athenian Greek.

Slide 6

In fact, Ephesians 3:2 starts off with the phrase, “if indeed …” It’s two words in the Greek; you could translate it with an antiquated phrase that still shows up here and there in English. But the place where you normally find it is in faithful renditions of the original King James translation and in Shakespeare. The way that you would translate it in Elizabethan English would be “if in truth.”

As soon as you hear me say, “If in truth,” you know that’s not what you’re going to hear on the street. That’s not everyday language. It is how they spoke in the 1600s or 1700s, but that’s not the way we speak today. It’s a way of speaking that is still is part of our English language, and you can say something like, “Well, in truth.”

That doesn’t mean you know anything about Shakespeare or the old King James Version. It’s just how language works. You have certain phrases and idioms that have a more ancient foundation, and they just continue and hang on through the particular centuries.

He used a phrase that was somewhat antiquated by the first century, so it gets peoples’ attention. Then CHARIN is used as a preposition, but it’s really the nominative form of the main form of this word, which is CHARIS, Greek for grace. But in the development of the language—and I don’t know why—but the accusative form which is CHARIN became part of an idiom for the meaning, “for this reason.”

Paul is using CHARIN, an unusual but not unknown way of stating this. But to somebody who was slowing down and thinking about what he is saying, it would bring to mind the idea of grace.

Guess what? Grace is a major part of what he is talking about in this section, when he breaks in Ephesians 3:2,

“… if indeed you have heard of the dispensation—or the administration—of the grace of God which was given to me.” It talks about grace again in Ephesians 3:8: “this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.”

Grace is part of the theme here, so this isn’t something that’s just there. It is something we often find in Scripture: the writers will use certain words that have one primary sense that they’re talking about, but they use that word because it’s going to bring other ideas to mind that they want to have associated with what they are talking about.

Paul begins in Ephesians 3:1 with his thought that is related to his being in prison. Ephesians is one of those four New Testament Pauline Prison Epistles, with Colossians, Philippians and Philemon. It reminds us that the apostle Paul was a prisoner in Rome for four years.

He started in Israel and had gone to Judea, described in the latter part of Acts, which caused a huge stir and riot in Jerusalem. He was arrested by the Romans and kept the palace of the Roman governor in Caesarea by the Sea.

Some of you gone to Israel with me; we have gone there. It is one the most beautiful sites that we visit in Israel. The Mediterranean is just a fabulous shade of blue and everything is tremendous. That’s where Paul spent two years.

Then he appealed to Rome because as a Roman citizen he could do that. He was taken by ship, then suffered shipwreck. He finally arrived in Rome as a prisoner and was imprisoned there for the next two years. The period of time when Ephesians 3 was specifically written was while he was imprisoned in Rome.

It’s important because it is central to the idea of what he is going to talk about in Ephesians 3:2–13, but we’re not quite through with understanding the significance of this opening phrase.

Ephesians 3:1 “For this reason,” which starts it, then there’s this break at the end. The next time he says it is in Ephesians 3:14.

Slide 7

But the last thing that he says in the paragraph of Ephesians 3:2–13 is, “Therefore …” What do you think of when you see “therefore?” If you’ve been listening to me for very long, you ought to say, “ ‘therefore,’ means I need to see what it’s there for.” It’s a conclusion. What is he concluding?

We read through this in our Scripture reading earlier. The focal point starting in Ephesians 2 is the administration of grace that God’s given to him. It is related to the revelation of “the mystery” in Ephesians 3:3.

This was not revealed, according to Ephesians 3:5, in previous ages or dispensations. But it has now been made known to man, has now been revealed by the Spirit. It’s given to him and the other apostles, but primarily to him as an apostle to the Gentiles; this is what he is supposed to be preaching and proclaiming.

It talks about the revelation given to him, the uniqueness of his ministry to the Gentiles. Then, Ephesians 3:8–13, he continues to talk about its significance to Gentiles within the body of Christ, concluding with Ephesians 3:11–12, “according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him.”

In Ephesians 3:13, he says something that seems to be totally unrelated, “Therefore, I ask that you do not lose heart at my tribulations for you, which is your glory.”

Remember, you have to look for these markers or you just get lost as you can be. Paul starts off in Ephesians 3:1 saying, “I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles,” then he doesn’t talk about that at all. He goes through this long discussion of the fact that he’s given this particular ministry, which is related to the revelation of previously unrevealed truth about the Gentiles.

When he finishes what appears to be a digression, but it’s a digression with purpose. He says, “Therefore quit worrying about me being in prison. You guys are all upset because I’m in prison. Guess what, we have an omniscient God who made a plan that takes into account everything, and part of His plan was for me to be able to carry out the ministry he’s given me, I need to do it from jail.”

He wrote four epistles while he was in jail. Four of the most significant epistles many people think of Paul’s career as an apostle. These are important: Colossians, Ephesians, Philippians and Philemon, his most mature thought in these particular areas. He’s telling them don’t worry about these tribulations.

We could bring that forward about 1,900 or 2,000 years and say a lot of you, and I, had a lot of plans for this year that did not come to fruition. There were pastors who were planning to go to Ukraine. There were ministries that Jim Myers planned to be involved in and go other places. There were lots of different speaking engagements that people had planned, and we got sidelined by the response to the COVID virus, and nobody went anywhere.

What is God going to do? God wasn’t surprised. Some people were sick, some things happened as a result of the lock-down, and we just think of what we could’ve done, as if God did not know.

Paul’s saying to them, “You think that when something bad is happening to me, guess what, if God can’t keep Paul out of jail, maybe he can’t keep me out of jail. How can I really trust God in the hard times?”

Paul is saying that when something that you think is bad happens, you’ve forgotten Romans 8:28, “For all things work together for good …” God’s in control, and He wants me in prison. I’m not here saying ‘Oh woe is me because I’m locked away and I can’t go carry out the travels and the ministries that I had planned. Those were my plans. God had a better idea, whatever that is, and the better idea was I’m going to be in prison.”

Who knows, there may be some of us that get to follow Paul in his jail time. If you’re not aware of this, you should be praying for it every day. We may not agree with John MacArthur on some aspects of his soteriology and Lordship salvation, but he woke up this last summer, not on that topic, but he has taught for years that Christians should not be distracted by politics.

You get too involved; you get too caught up in the things of this world and not of the things of eternity. So he didn’t come quite to the point that many dispensationalist have. Darby thought it was a sin to vote. He thought it was a sin for a Christian to serve in public office. He thought involvement with politics of this world was pure rank carnality. Fortunately, other people had better and more biblical ideas.

MacArthur was very close to that, then when this COVID thing broke, and the fact that his church, Grace Community Church, along with every other church in California, was ordered by the state to shut down, they said, “Okay, we will do it. This looks bad, we will go along with it.”

They did, and then they had a wake-up somewhere. MacArthur especially, somewhere in the period of June, recognizing that God called us to meet together as a church. That’s commanded in Scripture. We are to come together and sing together, we are to worship God together, and the state has no business for any reason telling us not to.

That was a huge move on his part. You may remember that somewhere in there when this happened in July of this year, MacArthur came out when the governor again said churches can’t meet, and they specifically targeted Grace Community Church, and said, “No, we’re going to meet no matter what.”

There was a headline the next day—that was on a Wednesday or Thursday—and Tuesday night in Samuel, I had been teaching about rebellion. We had gone through the Magda Burke Confession—the other term is the Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrates—that when God tells us to do one thing and the state tells us to do something else, we are to obey God rather than the state.

One of the first articles I read the next day, the headline was “John MacArthur Invokes the Law of the Lesser Magistrate.” I thought, “Well, everybody in my congregation will understand that headline. Nobody else will, but at least my people are taught well enough so they can understand that headline.”

Ever since then, he has been in the crosshairs of the governor of California. They have followed all the legal procedures. They are meeting, but they follow the protocols, they socially distance and all of the other things. But they’re not going to stop meeting. They’ve gone through two or three different court hearings. At the last one, which I believe was a week ago Friday, that court found in favor the state and told them that they weren’t going to meet.

They met last Sunday, and they’re meeting this Sunday. MacArthur’s been interviewed on several new shows in the last week or 10 days, and one of his comments I thought was great. He said, “I’ve had a lot of ministries in my life, but I’ve never had a prison ministry.”

Paul was in prison, so why should I be worried about being in prison when Paul embraced being in prison. It’s just another opportunity to speak to another group of people about the gospel. It’s just another open door.

That’s what Paul is saying here, talking about the fact that he’s in jail in Rome, but it shouldn’t upset the Ephesian believers. They’re apparently upset about that, “What are we going to do? Paul’s in jail! God’s going to leave Paul in jail! Oh, it’s terrible!”

Well, God has a plan, and that plan came to fruition, and sometimes God’s plan for our lives isn’t exactly what ours would be. That’s really what Paul is saying. He mentions his imprisonment in Ephesians 3:1, he comes back to it at the end of this long digression in Ephesians 3:13.

That tells us that the one thing on Paul’s mind is what? Encouraging and strengthening the believers who are starting to wring their hands over the fact that something not good has happened to Paul. He’s in prison, why can’t God get him out of prison? We do the same kind of thing all the time.

How does Paul address it? Most churches today are going to say, “Here’s five reasons why you should go along with the state,” or whatever it may be. They’re going to give you five reasons for this or four reasons for that that come out of pop psychology.

How does Paul handle it? Let’s talk about the dispensation of grace; let’s talk about the mystery doctrine related to the Church Age and that God has now brought Jew and Gentile together united in one body, in one new man, in one new temple.

Anyone of us in this room would be lying if we said, “Oh, yeah, I thought about that, while you were teaching it, that is an application of Ephesians 2:11–22.” Not!

But that’s because we’re trained—it’s our culture, and I’m including myself—to think at such a superficial level. What are the implications here? God’s in control, and He’s doing something new, and guess what? God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. He can accomplish His plan for the Church. And it’s not dependent on me getting things done in the way I think they ought to be done, but in God working all things together for good.

This is what we see going on in this particular passage, and if we miss the frame for the picture, then we won’t understand the picture quite so clearly. The picture by analogy is what he says from Ephesians 2:2–12, and the frame is what he says in Ephesians 3:1–13.

The focal point for Paul is what he says next in Ephesians 3:1, “For this reason—that is, in light of the fact that Jew and Gentile are united together in one new body, one new man, and one new temple. In light of that—I, Paul …”

That’s another interesting phrase that Paul uses just a few times in Scripture. In the other places where he says, “I, Paul,” it is always in the context of the circumstance and a situation where Paul is emphasizing a very personal relationship with his listeners. He’s being very familiar with them. He’s not so much “Paul the apostle” here as “Paul a fellow believer,” and he wants them to understand that he fully identifies with their suffering because he’s suffering as well.

But what is he suffering for? Not for something mundane, but he is suffering for the gospel. He says, “I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus.” By saying “prisoner of Christ Jesus,” he’s not saying, “I’m a prisoner of the Romans.” He’s not saying, “I’m a prisoner of the Jews.” He saying, “Christ is in charge here. I am a prisoner. I belong to Christ Jesus, and He’s the One who put me here, and the purpose is for you Gentiles.”

Looking at this, we understand that Paul is writing this, he is in prison as a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and it is “on behalf of.” “For” translates a Greek preposition meaning “in your favor,” “on behalf of you.” It’s translated a couple of different ways in the New Testament, but the main idea is he’s doing something on their behalf, for their sake. It’s translated a little differently in different translations, but they all have that idea that he’s doing this for their benefit.

It is to their advantage that he do this. They’re going to get something out of this, and he understands that, so he’s not upset about the fact that he is in prison. He is doing it “for you Gentiles,” because he is the apostle to the Gentiles.

Let’s just understand a few things about Paul’s mission to the apostles.

Slide 8

First, I’ll go to Acts 22, talking about an event that happened in Acts 9. In Acts 9 Saul of Tarsus is on his way to murder and to imprison a number of Jewish believers. At that point you don’t have any Gentiles unless they were proselytes.

The Ethiopian who responded to the gospel by Philip on his way back home to Ethiopia was a Gentile. But that’s not where the Gentile part of the Church began because he had already gone through the whole process of becoming a Jew, all the way through circumcision.

That’s different from Cornelius, who was just a proselyte at the gate; he didn’t want to have any surgery. He was a believer, but hadn’t joined himself to Israel yet. That’s why Cornelius was the first Gentile who was saved and brought into the church, Acts 10–11.

Saul is on the road to Damascus, and suddenly the Lord Jesus Christ appears to him. There’s a bright light: Jesus is in front of him; Jesus speaks to him. Only he can clearly see Jesus or clearly hear him, but everybody else sees something and hears something, so it’s objective. It’s not something that is totally subjective, which is what liberals will tell you:

“Paul was so overwhelmed by guilt, he is just on the verge of a breakdown because he’s persecuted so many and he’s sent all these mothers and daddies to prison, and he’s killed some of them, and he’s just overwhelmed with guilt because he knows the Mosaic Law so well.” That’s just garbage. I had a college professor who said that in my freshman Western Civilization class, so I know they do this.

“It’s all psychological” because everybody today has to define everything psychologically. But it’s objective; the way it’s told it is objective. The people with him didn’t hear specifically what Jesus said because it was not for their ears. They didn’t see that it was Jesus, but they saw something. It’s not in Saul’s head; it’s objective.

At that point Saul becomes saved. And because of the bright light he’s blinded then he’s given instructions to go into Damascus. There he will meet a man who will heal him of his blindness and give him further instructions. That’s the framework here in Acts 22.

Acts 22:12–13, which is a little earlier, “Then a certain Ananias, a devout man, according to the law, having a good testimony with all the Jews who dwelt there, came to me; and he stood and said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And at that same hour I looked up at him—that’s a way of saying ‘and instantly I could see Him.’ ”

Acts 22:14–15, “Then he said, ‘The God of our fathers has chosen you that you should know His will, and see the Just One, and hear the voice of His mouth. For you will be His witness to all men of what you have seen and heard.’ ”

Acts 22:21, “Then He said to me, ‘depart, for I will send you far from here to the Gentiles.’ ” This is the first place where it becomes clear that God at the time of Paul’s conversion appoints him as an apostle to the Gentiles.

Slide 9

The next passage is in Acts 26. This is another one of those times when Paul is giving his testimony towards the end of the book because he is a prisoner in Caesarea by the Sea. He is talking to Agrippa who is the king, and he’s basically giving his testimony in Acts 26:17 and following.

He says that God is speaking and telling him this—another part of the commission that God gives him, which is not part of what we see in Acts 9. Jesus is speaking to him in Acts 26:15, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”

At the end, Acts 26:17, Jesus said, “I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you.”

He’s commissioned by the Lord Jesus Christ to go to the Gentiles, Acts 26:18, “… to open their eyes in order to turn them from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.”

God is calling him as an apostle and commissioning him specifically to go to the Gentiles.

Slide 10

He says this in Galatians 2:7–9 as well, where he has a little dust-up with Peter over the fact that he is eating with Gentiles elsewhere, enjoying a good pork roast and shrimp and lobster. Then when he goes back to Jerusalem, he doesn’t; he separates from the Gentiles. Paul has already confronted him:

Galatians 2:7, “But on the contrary, when they saw—that is, the apostles—saw that the gospel for the uncircumcised—the Gentiles—had been committed to me, as the gospel for the circumcised was to Peter …”

 Peter is the primary apostle to the Jews. Paul says that he too is an apostle, but his primary ministry is to Gentiles.

Let me point out, there are some dispensationalists who have said that Paul was wrong when he went to the Jew first and also to the Gentile because his mission is to the Gentiles. Well, that’s just hogwash because Peter was the apostle to the circumcised. He’s the apostle to the Jews, and God told Peter to take the gospel to the Gentiles.

So, if it’s okay for Peter, the apostle to the Jews, to go take the gospel to the Gentiles, it’s perfectly fine for Paul, who is the apostle to the Gentiles, to witness to Jews. Just because that’s not his primary target group doesn’t mean he should never speak to them.

There is an application there. There are some Christians who won’t speak to certain people about Christ for whatever reason. We have a mission field that’s the whole world.

Galatians 2:8–9, “(for He who worked effectively in Peter for the apostleship to the circumcised also worked effectively in me toward the Gentiles), and when James, Cephas, and John—referring to the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15—who seem to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles.”

Slide 11

Romans 11:13, “For I speak to you Gentiles—the Romans—inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles.”

Slide 12

He clearly recognized that, which is why he said in Ephesians 3:1, “I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles.”

This focuses us on the fact that he’s using this ministry to the Gentiles, but it’s not simply that. He’s not a prisoner just because he took the gospel to the Gentiles. Look at what happens here.

He goes to Jerusalem after his third missionary journey, because he has made a vow and he wants to have Passover in Jerusalem and go to the temple.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that because that’s his background as a Jew. He’s not doing it because he thinks it’s cutting ice with God. He is doing it because he understands what Passover is really all about, so he wants to go and celebrate Passover.

In Acts 21:20–36 a riot occurs where he gets arrested. A key reason they arrest him is because what he’s doing with the Gentiles. They make up a lot of stuff and falsely accuse him, but it ultimately has to do with the fact that he has this ministry to the Gentiles. And for an Orthodox Jew at that time that was just heresy.

He’s unclean. You don’t take the food that is meant for God’s people to the Gentiles. That was a completely erroneous idea, but it was going on. If you read Acts 21:20–36, as well as subsequent chapters, Acts 24–25, a very big part of the reason the riot occurred, the reason he’s arrested, has to do with his ministry to the Gentiles.

It’s not simply saying, “I’m being persecuted by Rome, and I’m imprisoned by Rome.” The whole reason that he has been arrested and taken to Rome, is because the Sanhedrin and the Pharisees and the Sadducees had a temper tantrum about the fact that he was ministering to Gentiles, so they were making up lies about it.

Slide 13

As we wrap up, there are three other places where the New Testament uses the same phrase DESMIOS, meaning “a prisoner,” related to Paul, and it’s somewhat interesting how they work together.

First, Ephesians 3:1, “For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner Christ Jesus for you Gentiles.”

What is his primary ministry, his primary mission, as an apostle to the Gentiles? To take the gospel to them, to take the good news, to tell them that Jesus Christ died on the Cross for their sins, which he emphasized three times in Ephesians 2:12–18. In Ephesians 2:4–6, 8–9, he makes the gospel very clear to them. That’s his primary ministry, that’s our primary ministry.

Scripture talks about the call of a believer. The first call that we have in the Christian life is a call to the gospel, to believe in the gospel, to trust in Jesus Christ as our Savior. That’s the starting point.

When we respond to that call, there’s a second call that’s incumbent upon believers, and that is a call to do something with your new life: to grow, to mature, what is commonly referred to as discipleship. We are called not just to be saved, but to be someone who is growing and maturing and becoming a student of the Word, both in learning what it says and doing what it says.

That’s the second aspect here, and is really what Paul talks about in Ephesians 4:1, “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord—notice he comes back to that phrase again—beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you are called.”

That’s really what discipleship is, is growing and maturing, and to walk worthy of our new position, our new identity in Christ.

The third calling, we are called to suffer. Not a popular sermon topic that we are called to suffer. I don’t know what comes into your mind for suffering, but suffering is a pretty broad topic in Scripture. And because we live in the devil’s world, we all suffer. There are difficulties, there are adversities, there are other problems that we face in life, and we are to handle them on the basis of God’s Word.

James 1:2, “Count it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance.”

“Testing of your faith” comes under the category of suffering. Anybody who’s a believer, God is going to test their faith. Whatever comes to your mind when you think about suffering, needs to be clarified by what the Scripture says.

2 Timothy 1:8 Paul says, “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God.”

The first call is called to trust Christ as Savior. The second is to respond to be a disciple, to grow and mature as a believer. The third is to face the fact that if you’re doing #2, then you’re going to run into a problem and that problem is that you will face hostility from the devil’s world.

In 2 Timothy 3:12 Paul gives us one of those promises. We always say, “What are the glorious promises of God?” People have 10, 20, 30 or 40. I’ve seen people list 300 promises of Christ that people should memorize. This never made anybody’s list, but this is a very strong promise:

2 Timothy 3:12, “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.”

It doesn’t say “might,” it says, “will.” But you have to understand that persecution doesn’t necessarily mean that the gendarmes are going to be knocking on your door and haul you away in chains, put you on a stake and burn you. It can be just rejection by your family, resentment by your family. It can be children that reject what you believe. It can be all kinds of different things that come up and cause you problems in life because you are taking a stand for the gospel.

This is what Paul is talking about. He’s a prisoner, but this isn’t something to be upset about because this is God’s plan. He’s going to use this to give even greater exposure to the gospel to the Gentiles, and that’s the mission in this Church Age.

Next time, having understood the first part of this long sentence, we will start digging into the lengthy aspect, which is understanding the significance of this new revelation that Paul has been given, what this administration or dispensation of grace means, and what all of this dealing with revelation is about.

Closing Prayer

“Father, thank You for this opportunity to study these things and to be reminded of Your grace, to be reminded also of Your omnipotence and Your plan, and that things may not go the way we want them to, hope they will or expect, but that You’re still in control. And just because we face adversity or suffering, just because we get put someplace where we can’t do what we think.

“Just because Paul got put in prison and couldn’t carry out things he thought he should carry out, doesn’t mean that You’re impotent, that You’re unable to solve problems. It just means that You have a plan that wasn’t part of our agenda. Yet You’re totally capable of taking care of us and protecting us and providing for us, whatever that plan entails, and for that we’re comforted.

“Father, we thank You that we understand what the mission is in the Church Age, that we as believers are to take the gospel to anyone and everyone as we have opportunity. That if possible, we are to take it to the Jews, as well as to the Christians. But we have to have opportunities to witness to Jews, which is a very difficult thing.

“Father, we need to make sure everyone understands that Christ died for their sins, and that there is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.

“So Father, we pray that You challenge us with what we’ve learned today, that we may be strengthened and encouraged in our inner man. We pray this in Christ’s name, amen.”