Expositional commentary on Scripture using an inductive exegetical methodology intent upon confronting the lives of Christians with the dogmatic Truths of God's inspired Words opposing Calvinism and Arminianism, Biblical commentary, doctrine of grace enablement, understanding holiness and wisdom and selfishness, in-depth Bible studies, adult Bible Study books and Sunday School materials Dr. Lance T. Ketchum Line Upon Line: The Dispensation of Grace

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Dispensation of Grace

The Priesthood of the Believer
Expository Studies through the Epistle to the Ephesians
Chapter Twenty-two
The Dispensation of Grace

          As we read Ephesians 3:1, we must understand that Paul is most probably writing this epistle while in chains at Rome under Pretorian guard arrested by the Roman Empire (Acts 28:16 and 30).  He was arrested for preaching Jesus Christ as the only true God.  Such preaching was heresy and treason within the Roman Empire since they worship a pantheon of gods with the emperor himself declared as a god.  Paul was sent into the midst of this overwhelming religious and political tension to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to Gentiles.  Part of his message to the Gentiles was complete repentance of their beliefs in other gods but Jehovah and a complete abandonment of all pagan worship practices.  Confessing Jesus to be the only Lord in this environment was in fact equal to a death sentence upon all Christians. 

1 For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, 2 If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: 3 How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, 4 Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) 5 Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; 6 That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel: 7 Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power” (Ephesians 3:1-7).

All the emperors up to Constantine were extremely hostile to Christians imprisoning them and killing them without mercy.  The Jews too were also hostile to Christianity.  Have you ever asked yourself if you could be faithful to Jesus and preach the Gospel under such extreme conditions?  Yet, these conditions were considered normal to the Christians of Paul’s day and to many Christians around the world today.  There are so few Christians in the U.S.A. and Europe who are willing to even live for Jesus.  It is doubtful if most of American Christians would be willing to die for an opportunity to tell others how to be “born again.”  Preachers spend most of their preaching/teaching ministry just trying to persuade believers to abandon worldliness let alone trying to get them to engage a culture that is hostile to the things of God with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 
          The common characteristic and attitude of most American local churches and individual Christians is apathy.  They do not see churches services and preaching as primarily existing to equip them for “the work of the ministry.”  Many local churches exist in the same state of apathy as did Israel prior to her chastisement through captivity.  These so called Christians have just enough Christianity to make them miserable, but not enough to make them effective.
God spoke of the judgments upon national Israel repeatedly through His prophets over many years and throughout numerous generations.  God continues a similar message to the apathetic Christians living in the last days (Revelation 3:14-22).  Paul quotes some of those prophecies in Romans chapter 11:7-11.  What Paul refers to in Romans 11:8 is what was revealed to national Israel through the prophet Isaiah as recorded in Isaiah 29:9-16.

9 Stay {the idea of the word is to hesitate or question} yourselves, and wonder {be amazed or astonished}; cry ye out {in confusion}, and cry {same phrase used twice for emphasis}: they are drunken, but not with wine; they stagger, but not with strong drink. 10 For the LORD hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep {of lethargy, apathy, indifference, spiritual unawareness or carelessness}, and hath closed your eyes {refers to taking away spiritual understanding or the illumination of revelation}: the prophets and your rulers, the seers hath he covered {to clothe in secrecy; referring to what God had revealed to them from these various people through which He brought His revelations}. 11 And the vision {the look; the idea is that which God allows us to see of Himself, His will, and His pending actions in time} of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed {closed up and forbidden to be opened}, which men deliver to one that is learned {knows how to read and can explain the meaning of the written words}, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I cannot; for it is sealed: 12 And the book is delivered to him that is not learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I am not learned. 13 Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men: 14 Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid. 15 Woe unto them that seek deep to hide their counsel from the LORD, and their works are in the dark, and they say, Who seeth us? and who knoweth us? 16 Surely your turning of things upside down shall be esteemed as the potter’s clay: for shall the work say of him that made it, He made me not? or shall the thing framed say of him that framed it, He had no understanding” (Isaiah 29:9-16)?

          Religion without relationship naturally produces a hardening of hearts towards God’s will.  At the very best, religion without relationship creates a mere ideological faith and not a living faith, because real faith always generates a real, vibrant relationship with God.  The very notion of such a false kind of faith is an abomination to God.  What is God referring too?  He is talking about prayer that does not consider the character and nature of the One to whom we pray.  He is referring to being preoccupied with talking about God and establishing His will for our lives as if God is a mere ideology of moral attributes or some impersonal force that is without a personality that includes His own emotions. 
To talk about God out of a mere intellectual knowledge of Him is a sham compared to those who can talk of Him from a knowledge that flows from an intimate relationship with Him.  Anything else is just self-delusion that borders upon the boundaries of complete reprobation.  What God speaks of in Isaiah 29:9-16 is the point in time when He gives these people up to their delusion of a real relationship with Him by shutting down any further enlightenment of Himself to them.  At this time, they will be given over to the darkness of their own blindness regarding their pretentious delusion of a real and living faith.
          This was status of national Israel during the four-hundred years between the prophecy of Malachi and the coming of John the Baptist.  The prophets and priests of Israel were the eyes and ears of God to Israel.  These were the men through whom God spoke and through whom God’s will was revealed and explained.  Although there were other forms of knowledge, all true knowledge came to Israel through the sieve of inspired revelation (prophecy) and enlightened explanation (the prophets and priests).  During these four-hundred years of silence, God would begin a dispensational and transitional change in the way He would reveal His will and give understanding of His previously given written revelation.  Instead of revealing Himself through the prophets and priests, God would begin to give spiritual understanding of His written, inspired Words directly to anyone who genuinely believed that God existed and who began to seek to know Him personally (II Peter 1:20).  Christ spoke of this in John chapter seven as He rebuked the arrogance of the false theological notions of the “learned” of Israel.

14 Now about the midst of the feast Jesus went up into the temple, and taught. 15 And the Jews marvelled, saying, How knoweth this man letters, having never learned? 16 Jesus answered them, and said, My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. 17 If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself. 18 He that speaketh of himself seeketh his own glory: but he that seeketh his glory that sent him, the same is true, and no unrighteousness is in him” (John 7:14-18).

          This is a remarkable text when we understand it in the context of the history of Israel and the prophecies we have just read from Isaiah.  Simply stated, Jesus is saying in John 7:17 that a faith decision towards God to obey what God says must precede God’s illumination of His Word or His revealed will as given in His inspired Word.  The willingness or desire to do God’s will that comes from a faith relationship and a desire to glorify God in worship and service must exist before God will give someone knowledge of doctrine.  If a person’s desire is merely a desire for intellectual knowledge to give himself status before men, rather than rightness before God, God will not give that person spiritual enlightenment.  In other words, the truth presented will not be understood from the heart and that truth will not transform the hearer’s life the way God intends.  Even though Israel knew the truth, they lived their truth in dead externalism and not from the heart.
There is a big difference between being the Church and attending a church.  That is what Paul is speaking of in Ephesians 3:2 in the words “dispensation of grace.”  Grace is the supernatural enabling of the indwelling Spirit of God given to a believer when that believer is living in fellowship with God.  Paul understood that being a Christian came with overwhelming moral responsibilities in doing “the work of the ministry.”  He knew that what God had called him to do was an absolute impossibility apart from a partnership in doing with the indwelling Holy Spirit of God.  Because of Paul’s partnership in ministry with God, Paul saw miracle after miracle happen throughout his life. 

22 Are they Hebrews? so am I. Are they Israelites? so am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? so am I. 23 Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. 24 Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. 25 Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; 26 In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; 27 In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. 28 Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not? 30 If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities. 31 The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is blessed for evermore, knoweth that I lie not. 32 In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king kept the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me: 33 And through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall, and escaped his hands” (II Corinthians 11:22-33).

We do not see it spelled out in words, but Paul is detailing the cost he paid to be involved in a partnership with God in the work of the ministry.  It was in the midst of trials that Paul saw the miracles of God.  Perhaps this is why so few Christians never experience the miracles that were common in Paul’s life.  They never experience the miracles that were common in Paul’s life because they are fearful and unwilling to take the risks that are involved with engaging a world that is hostile to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  No one can expect to reap a harvest if you never get the seed out of the barn!  You will never walk on the water if you never get out of the boat!  You will never win a soul to Christ if you are unwilling to confront a sinner with God’s universal condemnation (Romans 3:23 and 6:23) and God’s solution in the Person and work of Jesus Christ.  The question of consecration enters into the equation of discipleship here.  That question is what price are you willing to pay and what sacrifices are you willing to make so as to be used of Jesus Christ to build His Church?  Building Christ’s Church is what all ministry is all about!
Christians think that the kind of life that the Apostle Paul had, and the fruit he bore for Christ, is reserved for a few spiritual elite of Christianity.  The truth they miss is that the reason for Paul’s successes was that Paul had committed himself to die for Christ before he faced any of the difficulties of ministry.  He expected to die for Christ because he was involved in the work of the ministry.  The willingness to die for Christ is where all ministry truly begins.  Christ said this on numerous occasions and in various ways.  Christians today spiritualize the reality of this expectation away into superficial allegories of death.  Jesus is talking about real sacrifices, real sufferings, and real death.  Perhaps one of the most definitive of Christ’s statements regarding the willingness to die in order to see souls saved and to work in partnership with Him to build His Church is found in Luke 9:20-26.  This text is definitive because it uses the suffering and death of Jesus as a comparison 

20 He said unto them, But whom say ye that I am? Peter answering said, The Christ of God. 21 And he straitly charged them, and commanded them to tell no man that thing; 22 Saying, The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain, and be raised the third day. 23 And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. 24 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it. 25 For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away? 26 For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in his own glory {the shame of unfaithfulness for Church Age believers during the Kingdom Age}, and in his Father’s, and of the holy angels” (Luke 9:20-26).

Very few people ever grasp the reality of Christ’s expectation of self-sacrifice for the cause of redemption.  Most Christians are willing to sacrifice a little.  Others are willing to sacrifice some.  Many are willing to sacrifice selectively.  However, few are willing to sacrifice it all.  The latter is what Christ expects of His redeemed.  Therefore, most Christians take momentary excursions in trying to enter into spiritual warfare with the minions of evil to make disciples of Jesus Christ.  As soon as they experience any kind of resistance, they retreat back into the safety of silence.  May God protect us from ever entering into the place of ministry failure called the safety of silence!
God has ordained the local church for what we might call the preaching moment.  The preaching moment involves the culmination of all of a week’s events and trials of life into one moment’s time where they will be confronted, encouraged, challenged, and strengthen by the preaching of the Word of God.  I have come to believe that God has prepared something special for every person in a local church at every preaching moment.  If the preacher lives a Spirit–filled life during the week, God will bring forth a special miracle that touches every life in a local church during the preaching moment.  However, Satan’s minions do not want that the miracle of that preaching moment to take place.  Some people will be kept away from the service.  Others will not hear because of distractions within the church service.  Many others will not hear because their attention is elsewhere.  May God help us to escape the apathy that results in the unheard sermon. 
All that has been mentioned thus far is what Paul addresses in Ephesians chapter three.  If it were not for the “dispensation of grace” (God’s supernatural enabling through the ministry of His Spirit) operating through the preacher’s life through the week, the preaching moment does not occur the way God intends.  If it were not for the “dispensation of grace” (God’s supernatural enabling through the ministry of His Spirit) operating through the lives of individual believers throughout the week, the preaching moment does not occur the way God intends.  It is through this supernatural spiritual dynamic that what God “made known” (Ephesians 3:3) to the preacher wherein the believer is brought to “understand . . . knowledge in the mystery of Christ” (Ephesians 3:4).  If believers do not understand this supernatural spiritual dynamic in which they are to be involved, they will fail to take the gravity of the preaching moment serious.  They will fail to understand the warfare waged against them as Ephesians 6:10-18.  They will fail to understand the critical importance in praying for their preacher in the way he prays for them during the week (Ephesians 6:19-20). 
If what is defined in Ephesians chapter four does not happen, what is described in Ephesians 5:1-6:9 will not happen.  These few chapters of Scripture are intent upon taking us beyond attending a local church to actually being a local church.  Doing Church and being the Church are two completely different things.  Very few Christians ever get beyond doing Church and attending Church.  This is mainly due to the superficial way they read and understand what Paul says in Ephesians chapters three through six. 
Although the subject of Ephesians chapter three is the “mystery” of the Church, where Gentiles and Jews are joined together in one body, there is another mystery revealed in the spiritual dynamic of grace enabling in the “effectual working of His power” (Ephesians 3:7).  Yes, the text is referring to God’s working through the Apostle Paul, but the intent is that the same “working of His power” is available to EVERY Spirit-filled believer.  In other words, this “working of His power” is universally available to EVERY “born again” believer-priest “in Christ.”  This “working of His power” in the Old Testament was available only to specially anointed people.  In the New Covenant, EVERY “born again” believer-priest has the “working of His power.”  This truth means there are no excuses for failure.  There no excuses for not knowing the Word of God.  There are no excuses for disobedience or compromise.  There is no excuse for being unfruitful. 

1 Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ: 2 Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through {the medium of} the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, 3 According as his divine power hath given {perfect, passive, participle} unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: 4 Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers {koy-no-nos', sharers or participators with} of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” (II Peter 1:1-4).

The “me to you-ward” Principle (Ephesians 3:2)

There is an important principle for us to see in these few words.  The principle is a practical issue of responsibility and moral culpability.  Every aspect of our personal knowledge of God’s Word and our personal spiritual growth is to be distributed on the widest scale of possibility in our influence of others.  In fact, we can go as far as to say that the distribution of all that we know of God’s Word and all that we are as a Spirit-filled Christian is more than a mere desire of the heart.  The distribution of all that we know of God’s Word and all that we are as a Spirit-filled Christian must become the consuming burden of our existence.  What we see in Paul’s life is intended to be God’s example to all believer-priests.  We have this example in the life of Christ first.

21 For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: 22 Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: 23 Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: 24 Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed” (I Peter 2:21-24).

Paul commanded believers to imitate the way he walked and talked.  He also told believers to single out others that lived like Paul lived so as to maintain a continuum of such examples. 

17 Brethren, be {imperative mood} followers together {co-imitators} of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample {tupos: a die or a stamp – the idea is replicating the same thing over and over again}. 18 (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: 19 Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.) (Philippians 3:17-19).

The Obligation of Replication

We might call the “me to you-ward” principle the obligation of replication.  Every believer is obligated to “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (II Peter 3:18).  Then, we are obligated to replicate that growth in the lives of others.  A Christian that does not reproduce growth “in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” is failing at the most central obligations of the Christian life.  A failure to reproduce growth “in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” in the lives of others should drive us to our knees in prayer.  Such failure should motivate us to examine every aspect of our personal lives for worldliness or hidden sin that might cause the Holy Spirit grief (Ephesians 4:30).  Perhaps the greatest cause of our failure in this area is merely indifference towards the Word of God and a careless attitude for our own spiritual growth.

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Numerous studies and series are available free of charge for local churches at: http://www.disciplemakerministries.org/ 
Dr. Lance Ketchum serves the Lord as a Church Planter, Evangelist/Revivalist. 
He has served the Lord for over 40 years.

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