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Ephesians (2010)

Manifold Mystery

Ephesians 3

Lesson audio

Mystery

Top Secret

Probably the most momentous single event of World War II was the invasion of Normandy. As part of the plan for invasion, Gen. Eisenhower set on foot and elaborate deception plan. The intent was to make the Nazis think that the Allied invasion would land in the Pas de Calais region of France. The deception was so successful that for many days after the invasion the Germans kept significant forces away from Normandy to counter an invasion that never came. This deception can be viewed in two ways:

·         Germans would no doubt think of this as a mystery. They saw it as a problem to solve, based on the evidence they had.

·         The allies saw it as a secret which must be kept. Our secret was their mystery.

This might prove to be the answer to the question, "Why doesn't God just tell us what's going to happen?" The mystery we have has a purpose, and that purpose is explained in prophecy. The details, however, are yet to be revealed. With that in mind we may now look at the Scripture.

For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of 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 can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 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, 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.

(Ephesians 3:1-7 NASB)

For This Reason

For what reason? We need to go back into the second chapter of Ephesians to find out. If we do, we will see that the mystery is that the Jews and the Gentiles would not only have equal status before God but would also be combined into a new thing: the church. This began at Pentecost, but was made possible at the Cross.

Paul tells us here that he is made the steward of this grace of God. It's not something he created, nor is it something he discovered. It was revealed. This puts Paul in the position of being an expert on the subject, but not necessarily by his own efforts.

Understand My Insight

Let's be clear about this. This matter is not something the apostles invented, nor did they discover it, nor did they propose it as a solution to the mysteries presented to them. It was revealed to them. But as Paul would be the first to tell you, if you get such a revelation you must soon begin to work on it to understand it completely. You have to "work it out." You do this by the power of God; if he doesn't want you to understand it, you won't understand it.

It has been a puzzle for the church for 2000 years; those who believe that everything can be understood by reason alone find themselves unable to understand. Reason challenges what has been revealed, but if you live in the power of Christ reason will be satisfied. Faith and reason will go forward together, hand in hand, so that you may know the power and glory of God. You cannot know them by faith alone, nor by reason alone – only in combination. This is very puzzling to many Christians. The best advice is this: just try it. It works.

Eternal Purpose

To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, 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.

(Ephesians 3:8-12 NASB)

The Least of the Saints

It helps to review the history of St. Paul. Originally named Saul of Tarsus, Paul was a man who zealously persecuted the church. When he did so, he felt that he totally understood God's will. He was educated as a Pharisee, and went to the Harvard of his day —the feet of Gamaliel. In the name of God, he did horrible things to God's church. You can well understand, then, that when God called him to that church he felt horribly guilty. No doubt he expected to be told that he would end his days sitting in the very last pew at the back of the church, listening quietly, and being politely ignored by all of the real Christians. God did no such thing. He put him to work.

We must remember that the word "grace" means something that is given as a gift. For that reason, we sometimes think that we are supposed to take grace and sit back and relax. Paul saw it differently; his past impelled him to work for the church. He was grateful to have a task like this, and his words and his actions showed this. But we must also remember that Paul's education was not to be thrown away; rather, it was to be used in the service of the church. His mind had been prepared to deal with the problems of the early church in its theology. His task was to bring to light the correct solutions — as well as preach them to the Gentiles.

Manifold Wisdom

Manifold means "many folds." It implies that the wisdom of God is not something which is just simple, or even puerile. In fact, it is deep and complex — as the physicists would say, it is elegant. That wisdom of God has been revealed through the church. This is very much unacceptable to the modern mind. We expect that science (or its philosophical counterpart, reason) should explain everything. Therefore, following will accept facts being revealed, we are reluctant to think of wisdom as being revealed. But it is.

The amazing thing is that the revelation of this wisdom is not primarily intended for those of us in the church. As the Scripture makes clear here, the wisdom is made known through the church but the audience consists of rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. In short, this wisdom is revealed through us but for those spiritual beings who are not human beings at all. This helps explain why God keeps it a secret. He doesn't need to keep it a secret from us, for we can't do anything about it anyway. But he does need to keep it a secret from those spiritual forces who oppose him. When that wisdom is revealed, God does so through the church so that those heavenly authorities will know that it must have come from God — as it certain he did not come from us. There were a lot of soldiers in the Normandy invasion who would have liked to have had a short conversation with Eisenhower to find out where they were going. I suspect it wouldn't mind at all telling them — but he might have had some misgivings about letting the Germans know.

The Yields Of Eternal Purpose

But now we are in on the secret! We now know what God is doing. This changes our behavior; in particular —

·         We may now deal with God in boldness. He has told us what is going on, we know his purpose. If I may stretch the analogy, we are now on Eisenhower's staff.

·         We have confident access to God. This is largely a matter of faith, but what Paul is telling us here is that faith works. If you have faith you have confident access to God.

The important thing here is the faith itself. If you take the leap of faith, God honors your boldness.

Don't Lose Heart

Therefore I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are your glory. 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 power 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 to 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.

(Ephesians 3:13-21 NASB)

Suffering and Glory

Paul tells us here not lose heart. When you consider that he was in a Roman jail, and of the faith was persecuted across the Roman Empire, you might ask what he had been drinking. Perhaps we can put this humorously:

During the second world war, the Germans progressively knocked out all of the allies except Great Britain. As you can imagine, the British found this rather depressing. One senior officer was going to his club with a rather glum face. The commissionaire at the door tried to cheer him up: "We are in the final, Sir, and its to be played on the home ground." These days are now remembered in Great Britain as, "Their Finest Hour."

There's something of that here. The fact that Paul is in prison, in chains, on trial for his life just because he has been preaching the gospel can be viewed as a great honor. It means that Satan took him seriously. It is worth asking: does Satan consider you a worthy foe? If he does, trials and tribulations you will most certainly have.

Prayer in Tribulation

If that's you, you need to go in prayer. And what does Paul pray for? There are three things:

·         First, he prays for strength in the inner man. This is the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and we should not neglect it. We need to know that we are not alone, that we are on the winning side, and that the strength of God through the Holy Spirit is available to us.

·         He prays that Christ will dwell in your hearts. Remember that the Greek word for "heart" really means "the will." He wants your will to be dominated by, Jesus Christ. In other words, your will should be to do what Christ's will is.

·         The net result of this should be that you will comprehend the love of Christ. It is beyond all knowledge, but it is not beyond comprehension. Anyone who has ever had a sudden realization of how much someone else loves you knows this.

Doxology

The word "doxology" comes from two Greek words. The first half relates to glory; the second half relates to the logos, or the word. We have a very good example of this in the English language in song: Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow.

So in times of tribulation we see from this kind of song the source of strength that Paul had: the glory of God and his chance to spread the word of it. He spread that word by God's power. So it is with us: we must see the power and glory of God in times of tribulation. Do not focus on the difficulties; focus instead on the tribulation as a form of honor. It means that Satan takes you seriously. If he does, that must mean that the power and glory of God are showing through you.

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