Ephesians - Lesson 5

By Curt Niccum

A Prisoner of Christ. Ephesians 3:1-13


  1. The student can describe how Paul uses the word "mystery."
  2. The student can explain how Paul uses his imprisonment as an argument for full placement.
  3. The student can explain how Paul uses his imprisonment as an argument for full power.


  1. Bibles and pens as needed.


Paul considers his imprisonment as a badge of honor - proof of God's providing theGentile believers with full placement and power.

Lesson Plan for Conducting the Class


  1. Call the roll or have someone check it. (It is very important to know who is present so someone can check on those who are absent.) Introduce and welcome visitors, take prayer requests, and make any necessary announcements.
  2. Prayer and songs as desired.
  3. Review last week's lesson and assignment.
    1. Note any changes made to the classroom or class structure to be more open to outsiders.
    2. Ask if the students worked on destroying and "barriers" in the previous week.
    3. Have the class list some of the temple imagery used by Paul in 2:11-22 and discuss the importance of this language.
    4. Have the class discuss what they discovered about Trophimus.
      1. Q: Who was Trophimus? A: He was a Gentile who accompanied Paul to Jerusalem.
      2. Q: What horrible event happened related to his presence there? A: Jews from the area of Ephesus (Asia Minor) saw Paul offering sacrifices and assumed that he had brought Trophimus, his Gentile traveling companion, with him.
      3. Q: According to what we learned about the Herodian Temple in the last class, what explains the ensuing riot and the attempts to kill Paul recorded in Acts 21-28? A: The Jews in Jerusalem thought that Paul had brought a Gentile across the dividing barrier that held the proclamations that all who trespassed would be killed. In Paul's subsequent trials, his claim that God now offers salvation to the Gentiles continues to get him in trouble.
  4. Q: In light of this information, what do you think of Paul's opening sentence in chapter 3? Is Paul just being generic, or do you think he means to be more specific? A: Probably Paul is being blunt. He is in prison precisely because of the Ephesians. (Certainly Trophimus would have told the story of the Jerusalem riot many times when he returned home. They would have been familiar with the indirect part they played in his imprisonments.)
    1. Q: How might the Gentile Christians in Ephesus feel about this? A: Sad, remorseful, worried, guilty, etc.
    2. Q: Look at 3:13. How does Paul want them to feel about it? A: Glad, proud. Paul's troubles are their "glory." Paul sees himself imprisoned because of them - not as their fault, but as on their behalf.

Learning Experience:

  1. In 3:1, Paul starts to get down on his knees to pray. (He will get back to his prayer inverse 14.) However, in the process of kneeling and stating his position as a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of "you Gentiles," his language suggests a further tangent necessary for the edification of the church.
    1. Q: How might you feel about your congregation, or even faith, if one of the founding members was in a federal prison awaiting trial for a capital offense? A: Such an event could trigger serious doubts about the leader, about God, and about the church.
    2. Paul views these issues as extremely important. He postpones the prayer not only to defend his imprisonment, but to show how the entire ordeal has come about because of his refusal to compromise on the gospel - the placement and power of the Gentile believers in Christ.
    3. Paul also connects his imprisonment with the specific gift God had granted him. This prepares the Ephesians for the next half of the letter where Paul reminds them that they need to be using their gifts as well.
  2. Paul begins first with placement (3:2-7).
    1. Here he indicates his imprisonment plays an integral part of his ministry. In a sense, God has placed Paul in prison in order to defend the gospel message to the world.
      1. Paul portrays his current situation as a direct result of his calling. (Note the similarity in language at the beginning and end of this section: "the grace of God given to me.")
      2. Paul also considers it to be proof of God's power at work (verse 7). He received it through revelation (verses 3 & 5).
    2. Paul uses one word to convey the content of his message: "mystery."
      1. Q: What do you think of when you hear the word "mystery"? A: A puzzle needing an answer, a murder needing to be solved. This certainly fits what Paul says here.
      2. In the first century, though, the word "mystery" could also be applied to the deeper truths of a religion. A "mystery religion" had several levels to which a devotee could aspire. Often secret rituals and knowledge led to a closer relationship with a deity.
      3. Paul never specifically uses "mystery" in that sense, but he would have known how others might have interpreted the word, especially in Ephesus.
      4. Q: In this passage, are the "deeper truths" of Christianity hidden from the Gentiles? A: No! The mystery has been made known (verses 3 &5)! Furthermore, the full inclusion of the Gentiles comprises the content of that great mystery (verse 6)!
      5. There is no longer any mystery, except to the extent that some people and the demonic beings in the heavenly realms did not yet fully understand or recognize what God had accomplished through Christ on the cross.
      6. In a well established pattern, Paul describes the mystery using three words with the prepositional prefix meaning "together with" (verse 6;seen previously in 2:5-6 & 19-22). Here is the climax of revelation: Gentiles are fellow heirs, fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers in the promises!
  3. Paul next discusses power, especially as it relates to the demonic realms (verses 8-12).
    1. He again connects this to his calling (verse 8). It remains an integral part of his ministry, including his abuse and imprisonment under false charges.
    2. This also is no afterthought by God. The mystery had been hidden from creation (verse 9), but now has been revealed. Indeed, Christ died specifically to bring about God's purposes determined long before (verse 11). If Christ's death brought the Gentiles glory, then so also Paul's imprisonment. God produces victory out of seeming defeat.
    3. Verse 10 must have carried significant weight for the first readers. Remember,at one time the Ephesians lived in abject fear of the beings that inhabited the spiritual realms. (If time permits, the class could review the worldview shared by pagans in ancient Asia Minor.) Instead of being harried and harassed by the demons, the church now victoriously proclaims the wisdom of God to those creatures they formerly feared. ("Rulers and authorities" refer specifically to the creatures inhabiting those realms between earth and God; see 1:21; 2:2; &6:12.)
    4. Five "p" sounds in the Greek of verse 12 would have heightened the impact of that sentence. Gentiles have, without a doubt, boldness and confidence before their God because of Jesus Christ. All power over all powers is ours!
  4. Paul's discussion of the full power (2:1-10) and placement (2:11-22) available to all who believe in Jesus Christ moves him to prayer. As Paul begins to pray (3:1), the mention of his imprisonment sends him on a related tangent. The inclusion of the Gentiles is central to Paul's entire life and current situation. Paul remains imprisoned because he refuses to compromise on that aspect of the gospel message. This should reassure the Ephesians. In light of that confidence, Paul returns to his prayer. (It would be appropriate, then, to close this section of the class and/or to end the class with a prayer, perhaps even reading 3:14-21.)


  1. One could approach this passage in several ways, but an emphasis on evangelism could prove fruitful. If you should choose to follow this train of thought, have the class discuss what Paul means with the phrase "according to the grace given me" (3:2& 7). Q: Is that something we have also today?
  2. If we too have been shown grace, do we not also have a responsibility to share the good news with others?
    1. Q: Why do we often shy away from telling others about Christ? A: Fear. Discomfort. (The teacher may want to make a list of answers on the blackboard or on an overhead.)
    2. Q: From the passage examined in this class, what do you think Paul's response would be to those answers? A: One no longer need fear anyone. If we need not fear the demonic realms, then what concern should we have over family, friends, or coworkers? As for discomfort, try imprisonment. God's strength is shown in weakness. Nothing can bar a Christian from the full proclamation of the gospel: not even death. And everything should motivate a Christian towards the full proclamation of the gospel.
  3. Challenge the students to share the gospel message with someone with whom they have feared to discuss Christianity. Indicate the class will be asked to share reports at the next class meeting.

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