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Faith Bible Church, NY
August 11, 1996
The Mystery of Christ
This morning we are going to talk about a mystery, and by that I do not mean mysterious secret rites or something impossible to understand, but rather something that was hidden, not known or understood, that has now been revealed. Sort of like the plot in a mystery novel, it’s something you never expected is introduced into the story line that pulls everything together and makes it understandable. God has revealed to us His great mystery.
Actually, we were told what this mystery was last week, but now Paul makes it personal. Turn to Ephesians 3:1 as we begin our study this morning. 3:1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles– Stop here. Paul starts out with a transitional statement and a personal description of himself. The phrase, “for this reason,” refers back to what he had just said as the basis for what he is going to say, and then suddenly he changes the subject. Verses 2-13 to deal with another issue that came to Paul’s mind while he was writing about something else. Grammatically this is called an anacoluthon, which is a break in sequence of thought. Paul will pick up his thought again in verse 14, but what made him suddenly interject verses 2-13 as a sort of long parenthesis before continuing on with his original thought in verse 14?
The answer is as soon as Paul had described himself as the “prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles” he also realized that he would need to say a few more things about his situation in order to calm the hearts of those who might be anxious over his welfare, and to strengthen those who might find his imprisonment a stumbling block to their own faith. The literary pundits may not like Paul’s style, but I do. Paul has a pastor’s heart. He has a heart for the people he ministers too and is concerned about them, so to interrupt one thought with another is a good thing to do.
Notice now what Paul says about himself. “the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles–.” Perspective is everything in keeping out eyes focuses on the right target, it is everything in keeping our world view God centered and not circumstance centered. Paul just could have easily said, “the prisoner of Rome held unjustly because of the hatred of the Jews,” for that was who had the key to his chains and who had placed him there, but Paul kept his perspective.
As Paul wrote this letter to the Ephesians, he was in the City of Rome under house arrest with a rotating shift of Praetorian Guards watching over him. Later on Paul would be thrown into what amounted to an underground storage tank before eventually being taken away and beheaded by a Roman executioner. It was Rome that was physically holding Paul prisoner. In addition, the circumstances that had placed him there was the extreme hatred of the Jews for the gentiles.
You might remember the story from Acts 21. Paul had returned from his 3rd missionary journey and had gone to the Temple to fulfill some vows he had made while gone. While Paul was in the temple some Jews from Asia recognized Paul and began to accuse him of bringing Greeks into the temple with him because they had seen him earlier in the city with Trophimus the Ephesian. Their racial hatred reached a peak and they seized Paul and began to beat him and drag him out. The Roman Commander who over looked the Temple area saw what was going on and went down to investigate and took Paul prisoner as a matter of protection, and even then the soldier had to carry Paul over their heads as the people continued to try to hit him. When Paul had made it to the top the stairs leading out of the temple and to Fort Antonia, Paul was permitted to make a defense of himself before the people. They were all quiet and listened intently as Paul explained who he was and his meeting Jesus Christ on the way to Damascus, but when Paul said that Jesus had sent him to the Gentiles, the people began to riot again.
While Paul was in prison awaiting a hearing, a band of Jews formed a conspiracy to kill Paul. Then plan was thwarted when it was overheard and Paul was taken from Jerusalem to Caesarea where he would be safer, yet even there Paul was continually accused so that he ended up in prison there for over two years. Finally Paul made an appeal as a Roman citizen to have his case heard by Caesar, at which point he was sent to Rome.
How would you react to such injustice being done to you? What do you think when you hear of contemporary stories of such injustice being done? Paul wanted to make sure that the Ephesians did not lose heart over the trials he was undergoing. He wanted to share with them his perspective of seeing God at work and in specific what God was doing for them, the gentiles.
Paul understood the sovereignty of God and saw His hand at work. Paul described himself as the prisoner of Jesus Christ. Paul had been in prison before and knew that anytime God wanted him out he would be out. God had sent an earthquake while he was in jail in Philippi to make that point. Paul knew that nothing caught God by surprise. God was bringing about His plan to carry out His will, and Paul wanted to be in the middle of God’s will. Paul often referred to himself and the “bondslave of Christ” (Col 4:12, Gal 1:10) and if God wanted him to be in prison at the present time, then so be it, God would accomplish what he wanted. (The end result of Paul’s imprisonment was not just several New Testament Epistles, but also the salvation of many in Caesars household (Phil. 4:22) and among the praetorian guard (Phil. 1:13).
Paul also wanted them to understand that he was there because of God’s work among them. Paul was the target of the Jews hatred because God had been using him to take the gospel message to the gentiles. That is why Paul’s said he was in prison “for the sake of the gentiles.” Certainly Paul would rather have been free of these trials, as all of us would our trials, but Paul saw that God’s hand was at work and that was enough. Troubles and trials do not need to weigh us down, it is a matter of perspective.
Let me give you a personal illustration of something that happened this week. On Monday we found out that Jonathan has Lyme. Certainly that troubles Diane and I. We are protective of our children. We diligently check them for ticks every night, and we would rather it be us that any of them. Yet all the circumstances in discovering the disease point to one thing. God is gracious. How can I say gracious when it would be better for him not to have gotten it at all. First, remember that we deserve nothing good to begin with. Every breath you take is a gift of God’s grace. Don’t presume on God’s grace and take it for granted. Second, remember that we cannot see the future and do not know what this may bring about for the cause of Christ.
As I said we check the boys every night for ticks. We saw no ticks nor any rash. We had to delay Jonathan’s yearly check up because of VBS, so this was the rescheduled date for that. As the doctor was checking him for scoliosis, the light reflected off Jonathan’s back a certain way that he notice a very faint ring. He called two other people to confirm it. When Diane tri ed to point it out to me I could only see it if Jonathan stood in the light a certain way.
If Jonathan had kept is original appointment it would have been before he had been bit by the tick. If we were a day or two later the rash ring would have disappeared. If the Dr. had not been doing the scoliosis exam, he would not have seen it. That is all evidence of God’s gracious sovereignty. It is a matter of perspective.
Paul wanted the Ephesians Gentiles (and us) to have the proper perspective. Paul was undergoing a lot, but it was all evidence of God’s graciousness to them. Let’s read this section, then go back and point out some of the details.
2 “if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you; 3 that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. 4 And by referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 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; 6 [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, 7 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. 8 To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God, who created all things; 10 in order that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly [places.] 11 [This was] in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him. 13 Therefore I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are your glory.”
Notice first Paul’s comments in verses 2-4. This is whey Paul was not in despair after undergoing such in justice and tribulations. He recognized what had been given to him and what had God had used him for. He was a “steward of God’s grace.” A steward, an administrator. He does not own it, just dispenses it according to the owners directions, and as he says here in verse 2, it was give to Paul for them.
How did Paul get this stewardship? Verse 3 says by the revelation given to him by God. Acts 9 records the conversion of Saul of Tarsus into the Apostle Paul. Jesus Christ revealed Himself to Paul and extended to him His grace resulting in His salvation. The same grace that is given to us for our salvation. Jesus Himself made Paul an apostle (Gal. 1:1) and from His conversion had said he would be sent to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15). Paul was trained to take on the responsibilities of being God’s steward through the many circumstances God put him through plus three years in Arabia where he was trained by the Lord (Gal. 1:18). Paul was saved by God’s grace and then became a steward of God’s grace.
Every Christian here has a similar tale in that you were saved by God’s grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and you have been entrusted a stewardship of God’s grace in serving Him with the gifts He has given to you.
Paul stresses here a particular stewardship given to him in the mystery of Christ, a mystery that he has mentioned to them before. Recall in 1:9 he stated that God had made know to us “the mystery of His will,” and Paul has spoken of it in Romans (11:25 & 16:25) and 1 Corinthians (2:7) which he had previously written. Paul expects that they are already familiar with all this by use of the first class conditional clause in verse 2: they have heard, and so they should understand Paul’s insights into the mysteries of Christ. Again, these are mysteries in the sense of things that have been hidden which have been revealed, not in the sense of secret rites or things that remain unknown.
Paul’s great desire is that they would understand what he understood, that they would share in his insights. “Insight” (sunesiV / sunesis) refers to knowledge being understood and comprehended for the purpose that it could be properly applied. The opposite (ajsunetoV / asunetos) means “foolishness,” a lack of spiritual discernment.
As Paul points out in this next section, the particular mystery his is talking about is the gentiles being included in God’s plan of salvation, the gentiles being added into God’s household. Verse 5 points out that this mystery was unknown to previous generations in the way it has now been revealed, and that revelation was given to them by the grace of God through the Holy Spirit. Peter put is well in 2 Peter 1:21 “no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”
Paul has already pointed out in 2:19,20 that God’s household has been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Jesus Christ as the cornerstone. It is through them that God has given us the revelation of Himself, His will and His eternal plan.
The Old Testament prophets knew that God did have a place for the gentiles, but they did not understand what it was. All they knew was that “all the nations” were to be blessed through Israel. They did not know the extent of the blessing our how it would come. Ancient Judaism had become proud and arrogant considering the gentiles to be inferior. Their only hope for the gentiles was to become a proselyte to Judaism, and even then they were restricted from full participation. It was not until the present generation received the revelation of the Holy Spirit through the Apostles that they understood this great mystery about the body of Christ. It would be made up of Jew and Gentile alike. Paul had already emphasized this in the last 12 verses of chapter 2 and now he is stressing it again. Notice his stress in verse 6. Jew and Gentile would be fellow heirs, fellow members of the body and fellow partakers of the promise of forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
If you are not aware of how significant this is I suggest you pick up the tape from last week when we gave a full discussion to this issue. In brief it means that not only has the separation with God caused by sin been taken care of by Jesus Christ, but so has the reason for the separation between men. In the church there is no room for pride or prejudice. All true believers are simply Christians. National origin and culture are insignificant because our citizenship is now in heaven and our culture takes a back seat to the scriptures.
Again in verse 7 Paul notes that he was made a minister, a servant of God, by God’s grace extended to him. Paul, who at one time had every reason to boast in his Jewish heritage – a member of the tribe of Benjamin and a
Pharisee of the Pharisees who was blameless under the law by their standards and was zealous for it, now counted all that as rubbish (Phil. 3:5). He calls himself the “least of the saints” here. He has also called himself, the “least of the Apostles” (1 Cor. 15:9) and “the chief of sinners” (1 Tim 1:15). This is not false humility for Paul knew where he came from and that all that he was due solely to God’s grace. Paul’s pride was gone and replaced with a deep, abiding humility. The closer a person draws to God the more clearly they see their own sinfulness in the light of His holiness. That forces both gratitude and humility.
Keep these character traits in mind when meet someone who proclaims themselves to be something important in the church. God’s true servants are to be marked with humility, gratefulness and a sense that are doing what they are doing because, as Paul describes in 1 Cor. 9:16, ” For if I preach the gospel , I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel. 17 For if I do this voluntarily, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have a stewardship entrusted to me.” Any person in the ministry of the church of Jesus Christ whom He has not appointed is a usurper.
Paul was made a minister by Christ to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ: vs. 8. The riches that are in Jesus Christ, His blessings, His teaching and all that He Himself is, are unmeasurable. In Him are “hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2:3) as well as “everything pertaining to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). His treasure include not just His wisdom and knowledge (Rom 11:33), but also His mercy and great love (Eph. 2:4); His kindness, forbearance, and patience (Rom. 2:4); His glory (Eph. 3:16); His assurance (Col. 2:2), His word (Col. 3:16), His supplying us with “all things to enjoy” (1 Tim 6:17) and most importantly, His being our substitute by taking on the reproach of our sin upon Himself (Heb. 11:16).
All this was now available to the gentiles as well as the full revelation of the working of the church as verse 9 states it. The coming of the church, the body of Christ, in which Jew and Gentile would both be members was not understood until New Testament revelation.
All this was done – vs 10 in order that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly [places.] The reference here to “rulers and authorities in heavenly places” will be seen again in chapter 6 and it refers to angelic beings, both good and evil. The church is the display of God’s wisdom not only to those within the church but also to the angelic hosts. The Angels do indeed watch us. Remember what Jesus said the angels do when a sinner repents? They rejoice! (Lk 15:10). As the redeemed are added to the church, the praise of the angels to God increases. Angels are also watching and at ready to do God’s bidding in relationship to His children (Mt. 18:10,14; Heb. 1:14). The angels even watch believers to see how they will behave. Paul’s command to the women in 1 Cor. 11:10 to act with modesty and submissiveness was “because of the angels.” Paul’s charge to Timothy was before God, Christ and His chosen angels. Angels are concerned about the affairs of the church. The church is not an end in itself but has been created for a purpose, to glorify God, and that includes being a reason to cause the angels to give greater glory to the creator.
All this is done, as verse 11 states, in accordance with the eternal purpose of God which He “in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
John MacArthur summed this up well, “In the classroom of God’s universe, He is the Teacher, the angels are the students, the church is the illustration, and the subject is the manifold wisdom of God.”
Since this is all done according to God’s purpose, then Paul has every reason to be bold and confident regardless of any circumstances he might find himself in. No one could restrict Paul’s access to God through faith in Jesus Christ. Nothing had caught God by surprise therefore Paul could take courage and he wanted the Ephesians to take courage as well even though he was in prison.
So it is that Paul concludes this interlude in verse 13 before going on to his subject in verse 14. “Therefore I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are your glory.” Paul is saying, yes, I am a prisoner, but God’s plan is still going forward. All my tribulations are for your benefit. The gospel has gone forward through me so that you could become fellow partakers of the glory God’s salvation through Jesus Christ.
Brothers and sisters in Christ. We need to rejoice. We gentiles have been added in, by God’s grace we are part of Christ’s body the church. We never need be discouraged by the circumstances we may find ourselves in. God’s work continues and we are part of it. The angels themselves are looking for opportunity to give greater glory to God as they see His plan worked out in your life and your response to it.
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