Some argue that this letter is spliced from pieces, and that one piece ends with the ‘Amen’ at the end of this chapter. Does the beginning of the chapter feel like a reboot to the letter? The writer claims again to be Paul, prisoner, and names the recipients as ‘you Gentiles’, which gives meaning and purpose to the writer.
How do you like this revisiting of ‘the conversion of Paul’? Acts, the official biography, gave us the ‘Damascus Road’. Paul’s autograph letters countered with a claim of greater agency, and independence from other religious leaders. This third version has more to do with a mystical revelation of ‘the mystery’, flirting with a Gnostic ‘secret knowledge’ defining characteristic of the faith.
Move past the awkward claim of autobiography, to the verses describing the revealing of a mystery, rather than a cosmic change manifested or effected by the person and work of Jesus. My reading returns to the wide-angle panorama view of one coherent cosmos from before creation, always built to include Gentiles with Jews, but hidden before and now revealed.
We can’t hear this ‘atonement’ stuff without two millennia of interpretation, and particularly, our culturally dominant commercial metaphor of evangelical ‘born-again’ conditional Christianity. I wish I could open the curtain to show off the whole spread, within which the truth of 20th century American Protestantism might be appreciated, without ruling everybody else in or out of the picture, or turn down their volume, so that we can hear more of the global harmonies.
So end the day with me, in the devotional voice: pray for strengthening in your inner being, with spirit and Christ within your own heart. Then imagine comprehending something of the big picture, appreciating the symphonic complexity of the whole divine thing.
The chapter ends with a familiar text for anybody who knows the Book of Alternate Services we introduced in the Anglican Church in 1984, and I still use routinely at the end of a sacrament, if I lose my notes: more than we can ask or imagine. Amen.
1 This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—
2for surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given to me for you,
3and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words,
4a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ.
5In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit:
6that is, the Gentiles have become fellow-heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
7 Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given to me by the working of his power.
8Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ,
9and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things;
10so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.
11This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord,
12in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.
13I pray therefore that you may not lose heart over my sufferings for you; they are your glory.
14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,
15from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.
16I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit,
17and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.
18I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth,
19and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
20 Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine,
21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.