When you are reading a good mystery the story is filled with unexpected twists and turns. You become fully engaged and your mind keeps wondering “whodunit?” Many of our contemporary crime shows and movie thrillers are written as mysteries that lead us to an unexpected conclusion.
In our text this morning Ephesians 3:1-13, Paul used the word “mystery” four different times. Some people conclude that this means the Christian faith cannot be understood. However, when the Bible uses this term “mystery,” he is speaking of something that was previously hidden, but has now has been revealed by God.
In chapter 2 Paul told us the nature of the mystery: the “dividing wall of hostility” has been taken down (or should be taken down) between the Jews and the Gentiles. As we move to chapter 3 he continues this discussion. In verse 1 we read “For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles…and then Paul seems to take a diversion or add a parenthesis. He doesn’t pick up his thought again until verse 14
For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name.
I think the reason for the parenthesis is Paul was reminded of the great privilege he had been given to be an apostolic pioneer at such a wonderful time in history. And even though he was in prison he considered himself to be the Lord’s prisoner. In his mind, it was a privilege to serve the Lord wherever the Lord saw fit to put him.
Paul’s Testimony (2-9)
Paul first shares his personal story.
2 Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. 4 In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. 6 This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. 7 I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. 8 Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things.
First, Paul say he was given his position by God’s grace. Paul came to know Christ and the great mystery which he proclaimed because of a direct revelation. Please hear this! Paul was not simply a scholar who proclaimed his latest theory. He was a man given a message that was supernaturally delivered by God.
If you read the book of Acts you will read Paul’s conversion story three different times (Acts 9, 22, 26). Paul was actually his “Christian” name. His given name was Saul. He was from Tarsus and educated under the finest Jewish teachers. When he met Jesus he was a fierce opponent of the Christian faith. He believed that the followers of Jesus were heretics worthy of death and he went from town to town to arrest and even kill Christians.
While heading to Damascus on one of his “missions” Saul encountered a bright light that caused him to fall to the ground and become blind. Jesus identified Himself and spoke audibly to Paul and told him to go in to Damascus where he would be told what to do. A guy by the name of Ananias was told to go to Saul (who from here on would be called Paul) to pray for Paul (so he would get his sight back), and then commission him to preach the message of the gospel to the Gentiles (or non-Jews). He was to warn Paul that the job would involve suffering.
By telling his story Paul emphasizes that he speaks with the authority of the Lord himself. Paul never claimed to be a believer because he earned it. Just the opposite, He was the least of the apostles. However, He was God’s spokesman.
He declared a mystery that had been hidden: The Gentiles share in the promise of Christ. We have lost the revolutionary sense of what Paul was told to proclaim because we think of the Christian faith as being Gentile in origin. It wasn’t. The first Christians were all Jewish!
The Jewish mindset was simple: they had been chosen by God through Abraham. They were given the law under Moses. Therefore they alone were the people of God. Gentiles could become part of the covenant of grace but they first had to convert to the Jewish faith. The idea that God would throw open the door of His mercy and grace to the heathen Gentiles was a radical assertion.
God had given clues throughout the Old Testament that His plan would eventually include “all the nations of the world” (Genesis 12). However, people had largely missed those clues.
Paul understood that proclaiming such a message would bring suffering. Any radical change will meet with great resistance. Our country fought a devastating civil war before slavery was abolished. I remember vividly the marches of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as he campaigned for the equality of races. King was beaten, abused, and thrown in jail time and again. He met aggression with non-violent determination. His demeanor and his persistence in the time of trial changed the heart of a nation. King was willing to die (and did die) for the truth he was proclaiming.
Paul had this same attitude. He proclaimed the message of equal access to God through Christ. As a result, he faced beatings, abuse, and arrest. Paul endured in order to break down the “wall of hostility” that existed between the Jews and Gentiles. Paul affirmed that,
through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.
In the Greek Paul uses three words that all start with the prefix “syn” which means “together”. By this fact Paul is showing us three things we share together as believers.
- Together heirs of the same blessing
- Together members of the same body
- Together partakers of the same promise
If we apply this to our day we are reminded that regardless of the label we, or our church, may wear; regardless of the differences in emphasis or experience; those who put their trust in Jesus Christ are one! The divisions are man-made, not from God! He wants us to work together as His body in a world that is lost.
As Paul shared his story he reminds us of the power of personal testimony. In our encounters with people of different religions (for example Muslims or Mormons), personal testimony is often a much better starting point than doctrinal argument (not that doctrine is irrelevant). People need to see that we have found a personal and transforming relationship with Jesus before they will listen to our explanations.
If you are a believer, you have a testimony and sharing that testimony can have a great impact on people outside the faith. Let me give you three simple principles in how to share your personal testimony,
- Your story should contain the “before” and “after” of our encounter with Christ. In other words, we need to relate the real difference Jesus has made in our lives.
- You should clearly articulate the “moment of crisis” or the “point of decision”. It is that moment that brought you to the point of faith in Christ. This is what Paul did every time he talked about the Damascus Road experience. We need to tell people what it was that led us to make our decision to follow Christ.
- We should focus on what God has done and not on what we have done. Our job is to testify of grace rather than brag about our life (or our notorious sinfulness). Paul called himself the “least of all God’s people”. He mentioned his past only as a reference point to show the contrast between what he used to be and what he now IS in Christ.
If I were giving my testimony I would share that I had gone to church and thought I was fine because of that fact. Then one day I came to the realization that I too was a sinful person and needed to decide whether I would put my trust in Christ. Once I made that decision at 13 years old my life changed direction. I began to live my life trying to do what He told me to do. I have never once regretted that decision.
Personal testimony is not an end in itself. The goal is to open a door to sharing the deep and abiding truth of the gospel.
Paul’s Ministry (9-13)
Paul described his ministry. His job was
9 to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.
Preach Christ to the Gentiles. Paul’s first responsibility was to tell Gentile people the “unsearchable riches of Christ”. His job was to let the lost and alienated peoples of the world know that God has reached out to them with a matchless and mind-boggling grace of God.
Because of this commission Paul traveled all over the civilized world of his day. He went to what we know as Syria, Turkey, and Greece. Paul would enter a town and begin sharing the gospel with any who would listen (often starting in the Jewish synagogue). When some responded by putting their trust in Christ, Paul organized them into a church. He trained them as disciples and then trained and installed leaders. Once he had done this, he moved on to the next town to begin again. He was a church-planter.
We too are called to proclaim the message of new life to those who have not heard or do not understand. If we really believe that the message of the gospel is the “unsearchable riches” of Christ; if we really believe that these truths transform lives forever, then we will want to share these truths with everyone!
Though we may not be called to leave our country or to proclaim Christ in other lands, each of us has been called to go into our world and proclaim the message of Christ’s love.
- In the workplace
- To our extended families
- To our friends and classmates
- To our neighbors and business associates
- To the people in the organizations in which we serve
These people need the Savior as much as anyone else. Please take some time to think about the number of people you encounter every day. How many of these people know nothing of the grace of Christ? These people are your “mission field”. They are your “Gentiles”.
The word “to make plain” is the word photidzo like our word “photo”. It means to bring things to (or expose) to light. Paul’s job was to “turn the lights on” so others could understand. That is our job as well.
To Inform the Angels. The most intriguing words of the passage say, “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms”.
Perhaps Eugene’s Peterson’s THE MESSAGE helps us,
And so here I am, preaching and writing about things that are way over my head, the inexhaustible riches and generosity of Christ. My task is to bring out in the open and make plain what God, who created all this in the first place, has been doing in secret and behind the scenes all along. Through followers of Jesus like yourselves gathered in churches, this extraordinary plan of God is becoming known and talked about even among the angels!
The idea is that the angels are watching what is happening on earth and what they see is leading them to worship and praise God! Even though angels are supernatural beings who serve the Lord continually and who also minister to those who are His followers, there is no indication that they are all-knowing. In other words, they are left to watch the magnificent plan of God unfold on earth!
This would mean the angels in Heaven are watching as God creates a “new race” of people. These people are not tied together by the color of their skin, the place where they live, or the products they produce. They are united together by the grace and forgiveness of God! They are one through the Holy Spirit.
There is a great story about a man from the Belgian Evangelical Mission. After examining the Scriptures (like we are doing now) he determined to work to produce this kind of Christian oneness. He gathered a bunch of believers from as many different backgrounds as possible and they rented a house and covenanted to live together for seven months.
Since the people were so different, frictions naturally developed. However, every time there was a conflict the group would go to prayer. These times of prayer led to a real sense of victory and of love among this group of people. The result was amazing fruit. The change was so dramatic that outsiders began to call them “the people who love each other”. People were drawn to Christ like metal is drawn to a magnet.
Don’t you wonder what others think of us? Don’t you wonder what the angels observe as they watch our church and the churches of the world? Are they being led to praise the One who is Lord over all or are they embarrassed, ashamed and confused by the bickering, worldliness, and division?
Let’s draw some conclusions: First, as we already mentioned, we see the importance of the message which we have been given. This message is so important that it is worth any sacrifice to proclaim this message. That of course, is easier to say than live. We must look for any opportunity to share with people the truth of Jesus and His message of grace. We must be empowered by the transformational qualities of the message. We can’t simply “give up” if things become difficult.
We must be intentional in our effort to share Christ. We miss many opportunities to share the gospel simply because we are not paying attention! Our main job in this life is not to manufacture a particular product or even to “make a mark on the world”. Our job is to glorify God, and we do this best when we point others to Christ!
Second, we see the importance of the church. The church is not important because of its programs; it is important because it reveals the life of God working in the midst of its people.
Too often we view our times of worship as if it was a classroom where we go to get information that will in turn help us pass the final exam. It is far more than a time of instruction. Our time of gathering together is for the purpose of worshiping Christ! Think of it like a pep rally for Jesus. But even that thought is not enough. This is the place where we learn to apply what we have been learning. Like the people who lived in the house together, we meet and fellowship in order to learn how to love and care in practical and real ways.
Our job here is not to build an organization or establish a name for ourselves. Our job is to fellowship with God and to reflect His life and power in our community of faith. Our church family should be a gathering unique from every other organization to which you belong to. Our times of prayer should unite our hearts. Our times of fellowship should be times of genuine caring. This should be a place where we can drop the pretense and be honest about our struggles, knowing that these people will still love us and care for us. Worship, fellowship, Bible study should be a priority in our lives. It should have priority in our schedules. Being together as a church family becomes important because this is where we learn to live out our faith.
Finally, we are reminded that God is working out His plan in history. As has been often pointed out: history is not merely facts and stories . . . it is the working out of HIS story. Secular history concentrates on rulers…HIS story focuses on the grace of God working in a redeemed group of people. Even when we don’t understand what is happening in our lives we can rest in the confidence that God is at work.
We have been given a great privilege. We can know God in a personal, practical, and eternal way. Because of this we also have a great responsibility: we must invite those who have not heard. We must show them what Jesus can do and IS doing in us. It is a commission we must never take lightly. We must proclaim the message of God’s grace no matter what comes our way: conflict, pain, sacrifice, and even death. The truth of the gospel is that important. It’s a mystery we can, and should, share with others.