Rabbit trail is like Paul in Ephesians 3

What is Happening in Ephesians 3:2-13?

Over Thanksgiving my wife and I traveled to see some friends at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. While visiting, I was given the privilege and responsibility of teaching a lesson at one of my friend’s youth group. He is currently taking them through Ephesians, so I picked up where he left off—chapter 3.

For the longest time I thought I had Ephesians down line by line—it’s a simple book, right? But when I initially sat down to prepare my lesson I was shocked. I had always simply thought of chapter 3 as a continuation of the anti-dispensationalism lecture Paul started in 2:11. But when I read it this time, I set down my Bible and thought, “What could I possibly preach from this?

What threw me off the most was that verse 1 is an incomplete sentence. He starts with, “For this reason I, Paul…” but never says what he does. There is no verb in the sentence, and he picks up in verse 2 with the church knowing about his apostleship given to him by God for the Gentiles. I scratched my head for a while, read it multiple times, and consulted a few commentaries, and now I feel I know what is going on in this text. If you have had the same confusion about the relation of verse 1 to what follows, or about how this passage fits with the flow from chapter 2 into 3:14ff, then I hope my struggle will help you solve this too.

Simply put, this section from verse 2 to 13 is a rabbit trail. The reason that verse 1 is an incomplete sentence is because something he said sparked a thought that he wanted to get out before moving on. He rants about it and in verse 14 he picks up where he left off. We know it is a rabbit trail because the surrounding contexts connect to one another, but are unaffected by, and unrelated to, this section. We know this because the prayer Paul prays at the end of chapter 3 relates back to his statement at the end of chapter 2. He concludes chapter 2 with Gentiles, together with Jews, being of “God’s household” (Eph. 2:19), a building with Christ as cornerstone and the apostles and prophets as its foundation (Eph. 2:20), and a “dwelling of God” (Eph. 2:22). We see ideas of oneness, building, and God’s indwelling. Well, turning our attention to the end of chapter 3, these same ideas are found! His prayer includes Christ dwelling in their hearts (Eph. 3:17) and being “filled up” (Eph. 3:19), which parallel the previous notion of God dwelling in them. He mentions being “rooted and grounded”, which gives us a similar picture of the foundation of a building.

Thus we see that the “For this reason” in verse 14 does not point back to the immediate section from 3:2-13. The discussion of Paul’s apostleship from God to the Gentiles is not the “reason” that he prays this prayer. Rather, this “For this reason” is the same “For this reason” that he wrote in verse 1. Bowing his knees before the Father is the action that is absent from verse 1.

So why this rabbit trail? Why did Paul see fit to jump into a new thought halfway through 3:1? When someone heard verse 1 read to the church they may have thought, “Who is this Paul guy and what did I do to cause his imprisonment?” Paul realized that some may have been distressed that Paul suffered for their sake and therefore seeks to comfort them. This is confirmed in the conclusion to this rabbit trail where he writes, “Therefore I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are your glory” (Eph. 3:13). This section concludes with what he suffers for their sake, which therefore shows the reason for the side note in the first place. Preaching to the Gentiles is a duty given him by God, so they should rest in His purposes. Also, through his preaching they obtain “the unfathomable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8) and “boldness and confident access” (Eph. 3:12). Because of the infinite value of what the Gentiles gain through his temporal trials, he can truly call them “your glory” (Eph. 3:13).

-Steve Rohn

What do you think?