A Divine Mystery
I suppose that almost everybody loves a good mystery. But many, perhaps most, people would probably be surprised to know that there are mysteries in the Bible! Now it is important to know that these Biblical mysteries are not the “who-done-it” types of mystery, nor are they full of suspense, but on an eternal scale they are “mind-blowing.” Many people spend a lot of time and energy rationalizing their behavior, covering up their real intentions or last minute preparations, trying to make it appear that what they do is based on consistent, deep-seated principles. But Paul wants to make it clear to his readers that far from impromptu behavior on God’s part, the inclusion of Gentiles along with Jews in the church was a consistent fulfillment of His ages-old intentions. It is not something that God suddenly decided to do to bring peace between the two groups before their disagreements got completely out of hand. On the contrary, Paul wants his readers to get an understanding of the fact that God, in His infinite love and power, has been planning something that is even beyond human comprehension, but He has not revealed it until the time of the Apostle Paul. This will be seen more clearly in his magnificent prayer which we will see in verses 14 through 21. He is about to express that prayer, introducing it with the words “for this reason I . . .” in verse one, but he interrupts himself for 13 verses in order to establish a further point of background: God is working according to a plan that he began to reveal centuries ago, and is only now, in our era of history revealing the details. Perhaps this is the reason he uses the term “mystery.” And in fact, this is the definition of the term “mystery “in the biblical sense – a truth that was not revealed in the Old Testament but is revealed in the New Testament.
This is not the only mystery in the New Testament. Time and space do not allow me to mention all of them, but a partial list would include “marriage as a picture of Christ and the church, in Ephesians 5:22, “Christ living in the hearts of believers,” in Colossians 1:27, “the fact that the power of Godlessness is already at work in the earth, but that it will be prominent on earth in the last days before the return of Christ,”- II Thessalonians 2:7, and “the mystery of Godliness” in I Timothy 3:16. A good “homework assignment might be to search out other mysteries in the New Testament.
So now let’s begin looking at the details of this particular mystery that we find in verses 1 through 6. Oddly enough he begins with an interruption of his thoughts about the mystery in verses 1 through 4:
For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, – if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you; that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. By referring to this when you read you will understand my insight into the mystery of Christ.
This paragraph is his answer to his questioners: He is a prisoner of the Roman government, but much more important, he is a prisoner of Jesus Christ for the sake of these Gentiles. This demonstrates that he does not have merely a theoretical interest in God’s grace; he is willing to go to prison to bring it to them. It is common knowledge that Paul spent the last few years of his life in prison, and most Christians have heard that he spent his time there writing deep, foundational truths to the various churches that he had founded. And from those letters we have almost all of New Testament Christian Theology. But not only that, his time of imprisonment gave him the time (and the peace and quiet) to do all of that writing.
But coming back to the text, in verses 5 and 6 we find the essence of the mystery:
Which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit, to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
Before Paul interrupts himself to give the background of the mystery, he mentions his imprisonment. This was something that had many, if not most, of Paul’s friends and church members puzzled. Why would God allow such a great servant to be imprisoned and what’s more to go through the terrible ordeal of getting to the prison in Rome as described in Acts 27 and 28. And so begins this digression in verse 3 for the sake of these troubled and confused believers in answer to all their unspoken questions.
Moving on in our text, in verses 7 through 14 Paul goes into detail about the ministry that God had given him. And the first thing he talks about is the minister in verses 7 and 8. And it quickly becomes apparent that the minister is Paul himself. Here we find the usual statements of humility. Apparently he never got over the “amazing grace” of God in giving him a place of ministry. This should be no less true of any one of us and we should emulate Paul’s recognition of that truth.
Of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power. To me, the very least of the saints, was this grace given to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ.
The message which Paul had been commissioned to give is in verses 9 through 13.
And to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things: so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him. Therefore I ask you not to lose heat at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are for your glory.
Here we have one of those places in scripture where we are reminded of the vast eternal scope of our relationship within the family of God; far bigger than our minds can fully grasp. What a wonderful thing it is to be involved in something greater than ourselves. As he comes to the end of this message Paul hasn’t lost sight of the feelings of his beloved church members and fellow believers. Look at the loving words of verse 13: “Therefore I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are for your glory.”
Pastor and seminary professor Walter L. Liefield in his commentary on this passage tells an interesting story to illustrate all that is involved in this unity of believers of all ages, nationalities and languages which this great mystery reveals. Without using the words “church,” or “body of Christ” or similar terms that is what he describes. Finally the day will have come when true unity of believers will take place.
He writes: “In my youth I once had the privilege of singing in a choral group under the direction of the legendary Arturo Toscanini. I was only one in a large group (along with a mighty orchestra) doing a very small part of the concert. Yet my sense of awe and my desire to do that little part well for the Maestro continue strong in my memory. The huge audience could not possibly distinguish any individual voice, but together we gave them pleasure and added to the reputation of the great Toscanini.
This section of Ephesians tells us that we as the church of Jesus Christ are destined to demonstrate God’s wisdom to a heavenly audience. We may think that our individual voices count for little, but together we display the wisdom of God, the great “Conductor of the church.
In verse 8 Paul had reaffirmed his call to preach to the Gentiles. This was one of the specific things that Christ on the road to Damascus had said that he would do. And verse 9 repeats and intensifies his claim to be preaching something not previously known.
Finally, having described his own ministry and the role of the church in fulfilling God’s intentions, in verses 14 through 21 Paul is ready to offer the magnificent prayer he was about to begin in verse 1 when he veered off into this digression.
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that he would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with poser through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. Now unto Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever, Amen.