THE MYSTERY OF CHRIST:
RECEIVED & RESPONSIBLE TO PASS ON.
While Paul was writing this letter to the Church in Ephesus he was in fact a prisoner of the Roman Empire – he was in Rome under house arrest. You can read the story of how he came to be there in Acts 21 – 28. He had been arrested on trumped-up charges – the accusation made by Jews in Jerusalem that he had taken a Gentile into the forbidden areas of the Temple. Supposedly a man by the name of Trophimus. After various trials before the Sanhedrin [Jewish council] and the Roman Governors Felix and then Festus and finally before King Agrippa – because he appealed to Caesar he was sent to Rome – he could do this because he was a Roman citizen. While he was awaiting trisl he wrote this letter – among others.
He could have said that he was a prisoner of Rome or of Caesar but no – he describes himself as Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus. Paul had every confidence that God knew his circumstances. He knew that He was in God’s will and that God was in control of his life and therefore God was in control of his circumstances. If all we can see is our immediate situation then our circumstances control us. We feel good when our circumstances are good and dejected when our circumstances are bad.
BUT also, if we look to our circumstances, we get a distorted view of God. We need to look at our circumstances from a divine perspective and not look at God through our circumstances.
ILLUS. When Jayne and Esther were killed – my uncle ” God must be cruel to allow this to happen!!” He was looking at the motor-accident from the wrong end and consequently ended up with a distorted and erroneous view of God.
Paul knew in his experience the truth of Romans 8:28 & James 1:2-4.
28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (NIV)
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (NIV)
Paul knew that God saw the big picture and was using this experience for the progress of the gospel.
Paul knew that he had been called to take the gospel to the Gentiles – he was not prepared to compromise or soft-pedal even if it meant personal suffering for himself.
It seems as if Paul was going to pray for his Gentile readers but then he seems to interupt himself and doesn’t get to the prayer until v14. He first pauses to describe the unique privelge that is his to have received the revelation of the gospel and to have been commissioned to take that same gospel to the Gentiles.
Let us look at these under the following headings:
– THE REVELATION OF THE MYSTERY
– THE EXPLANATION OF THE MYSTERY
– THE PROCLAMATION OF THE MYSTERY
– THE INTENTION OF THE MYSTERY
- THE REVELATION OF THE MYSTERY [v.2-3]
What is this mystery that Paul is writing about? What does is mean? How can it be a mystery if we know what it is?
The greek word musterion is not the same as the English word mystery. But it is the best we can do. To us mystery means puzzling / strange / secretive / something we don’t understand.
The word was used in the ancient Greek world to refer to the initiation into the heathen mystery religions – I suppose the nearest things we have in the modern Western world is the Free Masons – a secret society.
In Christianity, however, this secret is not exclusive – it is not reserved for a select few but rather it is an open secret / a revealed mystery that belongs to the whole church.
It is not something that people discovered by themselves – which they have thought up and now want to guard – NO! – this open mystery is something revealed by God – he has made it known. If he was not gracious and merciful we would know nothing about this mystery.
Paul had had a wonderful revelation of Christ on the road to Damascus – God had been gracious to him and so he writes:
2 Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you,
We know that God’s grace was revealed to him but what does he mean by administration of God’s grace?
Administration – the Greek word means the task of being a steward – someone who was responsible for the running of an entire household. Not the owner – often a slave –
Paul has been appointed to his ministry of apostleship – he is a recepient of God’s grace and he is a steward / administrator of God’s grace
Everyone of us have received the grace of God – we have been called into a relationship with Christ and given spiritual gifts. Everything we have belongs to God and we have the task of being good stewards, managing our lives and everthing we have.
1 Peter 4:10 10 Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. (NIV)
Paul stil has explained what this mystery is.
- THE EXPLANATION OF THE MYSTERY. [v.4-6]
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.
In the OT while it was true that anyone could come to God it was through the Jews – No one had a vision of what the church would be – Jews and gentiles together in one new body.
We can only understand the extent of this mystery when we understand the depth of division between Jews and Gentiles – mutual hatred.
ILLUS.: Take the situation today between the Bosnian Muslims and Serbs, Between the Huto and Tutsi in Rwanda, between Nationalist and and Republican in Northern Ireland …………….
Now bring all these together into one loving caring, sharing community!! This is the mystery of God’s grace – Jews and Gentiles – heirs together / members together / sharers together.
It was this complete union of Jews and Gentiles to gether “in Christ” that was so redically new. This was the mystery that was now revealed. It was not made known to those before Paul’s time.
………… 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.
The mystery of the gospel is that man and women and young people can know God and be reconciled to each other inspite of previous hostility. This is all possible because of Christ. Notice Paul adds his favourite phrase at the end of verse 6 “in Christ.”
Christ is the source of this mystery and the substance of this mystery – a mystery that is open for all to see. A mystery that is revealed only through the working of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the agent of revelation. Unless God reveals himself through his Spirit we remain ignorant cut off from God.
Does this mean that Christians have no part in the proclamation of the Gospel??
Should our attitude be the same as that of William Carey’s critics. When Carey expressed a burden to take the gospel to India , they said “Young man if God wants to save the heathen he will do it without your help or mine!!”
- THE PROCLAMATION OF THE MYSTERY [v.7-9]
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.
Paul is quite clear that he has the God-given responsibility to preach to the Gentile – to evangelise -Lit. to announce good news.
Paul is the recepient of God’s goodness and of the unsearchable riches of Christ –
in the letter he has already described some of the blessing and riches that are in Christ – forgiveness, election, adoption into God’s family, becoming children of God, an inheritance guaranteed by the Spirit’s dwelling in us …… These are just a taste of what is to come. Christ’s riches are unseachable / infinite…
Having recieved all this from God Paul knows that with this comes the responsibility of preaching and telling others.
But you say – I am not the Apostle Paul – —
Consider you Paul had been – a persecutor, a hater of God’s people. He had no allusions about his abilities or his position … I am less than the least of all God’s people, … This was not a false humility – it is most irratating when a proud person pretends to be humble. No, Paul knew who he was and he boasted of what Christ have done for him BUT he had no illusions about his own granduer.
While he did not have any illusions about his own importance, he did understand his role. The revalation into the mystery he recieved and the commision to preach were indivisibly linked. What had been made known to him he must without fail make known to others.
We are the stewards of what God has entrusted to us. The gospel is given to us to be shared and not to be monopolized. If you are a Christian you MUST share what you have recieved. Are you?
ILLUS.: Herbert Beerens – athiest from Belgium – to RSA – a studnet challenged him – he became a Christian – immediately “If this is true for me then it is true for everyone and I must tell them“.
Can’t God do it without me?? Yes, but he has choosen not to!!
Maybe we fail to be urgent about the spread of the gospel because we haven’t fully grasped the magnitude of God’s grace and goodness to us and the awfulness of our sinfulness and that of the world. Do we really believe what the Bible says? – sometimes I doubt that we do because we are lethargic and unmotivated to do anything to share it with others.
“The height of selfishness is the person who is content to go to heaven alone”
How are people going to hear? Only if God’s people tell them!!
- THE INTENTION OF THE MYSTERY. [v.10-13]
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. 13 I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.
God’s intention is to display this mystery to the universe. The fact the sinners can be reconciled to God and to each other through the cross and brought together in one body – the Church.
What is meant by manifold wisdom?? “manifold” means many-coloured – a word you would used to describe a beautiful flower or a tapsetry. The church is like a piece of embroidery – rich in its diversity and harmony. Members from many colourful background, cultures, languages brought together into one unique community — a reflection of the many-coloured / many-splendoured wisdom of God.
The church is God’s masterpiece – he is working to create a display to the universe of his greatness and his love. We have limited knowledge of spiritual beings and we must be careful not to let our imaginations run wild. But it is clear that this world is not the begining and end of life. There is other life – not little gree Marsian – but angels and a host of spiritual beings who look on in wonder at what God is doing.
That is why [Luke 15:10]…………there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (NIV)
((The Church is referred to as the Bride of Christ – she is being prepared for the great wedding banquet to be present, perfect and blameless, to Christ. Who will witness this spectacle – who will be the guests at that ceremony? the angels and all the heavenly hosts.))
God can and does reveal himself in many ways – eg. through creation – BUT now it is his intention that his wisdom and eternal purposes be reveale through the Church!!
The Church is central to God’s plan. Jesus said “I will build my Church…” and that is precisely what he is doing.
Society may think the Church is insignificant and irrevalant – Historians may choose to ignore the role of the church or play it down but history is “HIS STORY” and God is moving history and using his church to do so.
ILLUS.: In RSA the church played a very significant role in the changes that have come.
In Romania it was the courage of one Pastor, Laszlo Tokes, who refused to bow to the pressure of the Ceausescu Regime who was a catalyst for bringing down that dictatorship – not because he was politically motivated but because he simply wanted to obey God and fulfill his calling as a pastor.
In England in the 1700’s it was the preaching of the Wesleys and Whitfield and others that save England from revolution.
It is through the church the God demostrates his mainfold wisdom. But all too often we look to politicians and ecomomists for direction and answers – they fail again and again yet we never learn that we must look to Christ who is the head of the Church.
We need a fresh vision of what the church should be!! All to often our view of the gospel is too individualistic. Yes it is individual – “Christ died for me!” BUT he brought me into a family and made me part of a new community.
The mystery of Christ is that he reconciles hostile sinful people to God and also to each other in one new society – the church. But when we fail to behave like a family – when we live our individualistic live from week to week with no thought of meeting together with other Christians for fellowship and prayer — when we don’t care about our fellow believers but are only concerned about our own individualistic concerns THEN we may as well slap God in the face. We are failing to live up to our calling.
You see God takes the church seriously – the church is central to God’s plans it should be central in our lives. We dare not push to one side what God put as a priority.
If the Church’s worship is mechanical, and its fellowship cold – it is failing to be the church. If it is divided by infighting – it is failing to be the church. If it is isolationist and unconcerned to preach the gospel to everyone then it is failing to be the Church.
If the church is going to be the Church – if Binscombe Church is going to be the Church then we must have a vision of the church that is in line with God’s.
A Church made up of people who grasp the enormity of what Christ has done to saved them and give them new life.
A church where worship is from the heart and not simply going through the motions
A church where fellowship isnot superficial but where Christlike love and care are the norm for all its members and not just a select few.
A Church where compassion for a lost world drives us to our knees and also out into the world to do something about it.
A Church that is willing to pray, to work, to give, and if needs be, to suffer in order to make known the mystery of Christ to ALL people.
This is the kind of Church we should be – this is the kind of Church we can be by God’s grace if we are willing, like the apostle Paul, to say [ Galatians 2:20] I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (NIV)
God has blessed us and has enabled us to a church here – and we need to thank him for that – but you know and I know that we are not what we could or should be.
How is your prayer life? Do you pray?
Do your study the scriptures? Sunday morning is not enough!!
Do you meet with other Christians during the week for prayer and fellowship?
How concerned are you about your non-christian friends and relatives and what are you doing about it?
How do you spend your money? All on yourself? OR do you give and pray that the gospel may reach the ends of the earth?
If the Christ and his church are simply a tack-on to your life – not only are you spiritually poor but you are missing out on all the benefits of God’s grace that he wants to lavish on you.
Why eat pig food and live in spiritual poverty like the prodigal son when then is a place for you at the Father’s table.
THE MYSTERY OF CHRIST.
Ephesians 3:1 – 13
- THE REVELATION OF THE MYSTERY
it’s an ‘open / revealed secret’
we are administrators / stewards of
- THE EXPLANATION OF THE MYSTERY
joined to Christ to each other
we are heirs together
- THE PROCLAMATION OF THE MYSTERY
method – through his servants
message – infinite riches of Christ
market – everyone
- THE INTENTION OF THE MYSTERY
to show the manifold wisdom of God
as a witness to the universe
through the Church