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Lesson 7: God's Mystery: The Universal Fellowship *

Introduction: How do you like solving a mystery? How do you feel when you can solve a mystery and others cannot? This week we learn about a mystery of God. A mystery that the universe is looking to you to reveal to it. Let's plunge right into our mystery!

  1. Prisoner Paul

    1. Read Ephesians 3:1. What is Paul's status as he writes this counsel to the Ephesians? (He is in prison.)

      1. Why is he in prison? (He says it is because of the Gentiles. Wiersbe's Expository Outlines on the New Testament directs our attention to Acts 22 for the answer. So, let's explore what happened in Acts.)

    2. Read Acts 21:27-29. What is the charge against Paul?

      1. What is the basis for the charge?
    1. Read Acts 21:30-32. How would you characterize the views of the Jews towards Paul?

      1. Why did they have such hostility towards him? (His association with Gentiles.)

    2. In Acts 21:33-40 Paul is saved by the soldiers, arrested, and interviewed by the commander of the soldiers. He decides to let Paul speak to the mob in the hope that will clear up any confusion and get them settled down. Read quickly Acts 22:1-22, focusing on Acts 22:21-22. What specific mission did God give Paul? (To minister to the Gentiles.)

      1. What do you find odd about that? (Paul started out with the same attitude ( Acts 22:3-4) as the people in the mob.)

        1. Has this happened to you? Has your attitude towards another race or class or people changed because of the gospel?

      2. Read again Acts 22:21-22. Considering this entire sequence of events, why are the Jews so angry about Paul's announcement that God has sent Paul to minister to the Gentiles? (It seems this is a repudiation of what we discussed last week - the Jews were the "clean" insiders. The Gentiles were the unclean outsiders. The idea that Gentiles could have access to God upset their entire world-view. It also took away their exclusive status. None of this was pleasing news.)

      3. If you were Paul, the ultimate "insider," how would you like to be given the mission to bring the gospel to the Gentiles?

        1. If you were God, why would you give this mission to Paul? (Because it took away much of the argument against Paul. Paul was the "ultimate Jew." Jews could not suggest that his current views came from some defect in his background. No one could argue, "He has never been a proper Jew. We should not be surprised by him now.")

  1. The Mystery

    1. Read Ephesians 3:2-3. What is this mystery revealed to Paul? (Read Ephesians 3:6 - that the Gentiles are heirs together with the Jews. They share the promise of eternal life through Jesus.)

      1. What does it mean for Paul to "administer" God's grace? (What a glorious thought. When you share God's gift of grace with others, you help to direct God's work on earth.)

    2. Read Ephesians 3:4-5 and Ephesians 3:9. Why would God keep truth hidden?

      1. What is Paul's point in Ephesians 3:9 when he notes that God "created all things?" (Paul's point is that the Creator can decide to reveal things whenever He wants. His creation is in no position to say, "Why didn't you tell me that before?")

      2. Look again at Ephesians 3:5. Has this mystery never before been revealed? (Paul says it has not before been so clearly revealed. The idea that I get is that this was known in the past to a limited degree, but now God wants it to be widely revealed.)

        1. Read Isaiah 56:6-7 and Isaiah 49:6. We have already discussed the "God is all powerful and He can do anything He wants" answer to this mystery of sharing the gospel with the Gentiles. What logical reason can you see for God more fully revealing the mystery during Paul's day? (The Isaiah 49:6 text is a Messianic prophecy. Since Israel largely rejected Jesus as the Messiah, it made sense to go beyond the Jews with the message of Jesus. God had always allowed Gentiles to come to Him ( Isaiah 56:6-7), but now there was a very practical reason to abandon Israel as God's primary point of contact with humanity.)

    3. Read Ephesians 3:6. How does the gospel bring the Jews and Gentiles together? (Since Jesus died for the sins of all, and since salvation is by grace and not works, all are now eligible to enter into the Kingdom of God.)

  2. Paul the Lesser

    1. Read Ephesians 3:7-8. How does Paul describe himself? (As less than the least of all God's people.)

      1. Read 1 Corinthians 15:9. How does Paul describe himself here? (As the least of the apostles.)

      2. Read 1 Timothy 1:15. How does Paul describe himself here? (As the worst of all sinners.)

      3. Consider this series of statements: Paul is the least of the apostles, the least of the believers and (going further down)the worst of all sinners. What is Paul's point? That we should junk all of our "self-worth" seminars?

        1. Read 2 Corinthians 11:30. (Paul "boasts" in his weakness because it shows the power of God. Paul has this huge task - to administer the "mystery" that the gospel of grace now should be widely shared with Gentiles. Paul is not claiming that he was given this task because he is so wise, important and powerful. Rather, it is God who is wise, important and powerful.)

          1. How does your attitude compare to that of Paul?

  3. Tutors of the Universe

    1. Read Ephesians 3:10-11. Who are these "rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms?" (Angels?)

      1. Read 1 Peter 1:10-12 and Luke 15:10. What kind of picture do we get of God's angels? (That they are cheerleaders and helpers who are not completely aware of how the details of salvation on earth will work out. They study the issue of salvation.)

      2. What does Ephesians 3:10 suggest that the church (that is you) is teaching angels? (Friend, God is using you to unravel for the angels the details of how the plan of salvation works out here on earth. Paul suggests to us that the angels did not understand the mystery that Gentiles and Jews would now come together to promote God's kingdom on earth. Angels are studying us.)

      3. Would "ruler" be a proper term to describe an angel? (I think we have more than angels described here. It is reasonable to read this to mean that other worlds are studying how the conflict between good and evil and the plan of salvation are working out here on planet earth.)

    2. Read Ephesians 3:12-13. Why can we have confidence in approaching God? (What Jesus has done boosts our status before God. If angels and other worlds are looking to us to help understand God's work on earth, consider what that does for your confidence. You are the center of the action!)

  4. Strength for the Task

    1. Read Ephesians 3:14-16. Given the enormous importance of what we are doing, given the universal stage on which we work, what do we need to allow us to do our work? (Power from the Holy Spirit.)

    2. Read Ephesians 3:17-19. What does love have to do with this? (Not only does the knowledge that Jesus loves us give us strength for the task ahead, but understanding and sharing a sense of that love is a large part of our mission.)

    3. Read Ephesians 3:20-21. Friend, what kind of dream do you have for accomplishing God's work on earth? Paul tells us that God can use you to do much more than you can even imagine! Will you imagine great things for God today?

  5. Next week: Unity Amid Diversity.
* Copr. 2005, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.

© 2021 Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
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