Ephesians 3:1-21 – God’s Great Mystery Revealed! (24/5/15)
After the start of this week, I needed some down time and so I rediscovered the joy of the crime novel. There’s something gratifying in sitting down to read, or watch, a good mystery, deciphering the clues and solving the puzzle. If like me, you love a good mystery then Ephesians 3 is for you. Paul delves into the mystery of Christ, the mystery of God’s plan for the universe. However, if you can’t stand a mystery, that’s OK. Paul reveals what the mystery is, he doesn’t keep us in the dark.
Before he spills the beans though, Paul’s very clear that he didn’t solve the mystery by himself. God, in his grace, revealed it to Paul. That’s a good thing, because in fact no human being had been able to figure it out. ‘In former generations, this mystery was not made known to human kind’ he says in verse 5. Certainly, once you’re in the know, it’s possible to look back through Scripture and see hints all the way through. You wonder then how anybody missed it! But it’s like the disciples on the Road to Emmaus. Even though they knew the Old Testament, even though they’d heard Jesus say he would die and rise again, they still didn’t get it. It took the risen Lord Jesus, appearing and opening up their minds for them to be able to grasp the truth. As it turns out, it’s not just humans who were unable to perceive the great mystery Paul’s referring to. In verse 10 we’re told that even the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places had no idea what God was planning.
But know God has revealed it to the holy apostles and prophets, including Paul, through the Spirit. Now the mystery has been revealed and is available for all.
Do you want to know what the mystery is? If you give me $20, I’ll tell you. You don’t have to give it to me right now, just slip it in the collection plate with your name and number written on a corner and I’ll call you up after the service with a time and a location. No, that’s not how it works. This mystery isn’t mean to kept hidden, shared only with a select few. It’s not insider knowledge that you have to attain the level of Grand Master in order to have it revealed to you. This mystery has now been made known to all. It’s open for everyone to see.
In fact, you already know what the mystery is. Does anyone want to take a stab at what it is? Preferably not someone who’s got the sermon text in front of them already! What is the mystery of God’s plan for the world? It’s the church! Specifically it’s the inclusion of we Gentiles into God’s people. It’s what we’ve seen over the past two weeks in Ephesians 2. See, you did know it already! The great mystery of God’s plan is this; that we Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
The church isn’t some relic of the past, some bastion of an age long gone as some people in our world might claim. We’re the exact opposite. We’re the future! When people see the church, they’re actually seeing God’s plan for the future, a single new humanity gathered under Christ. Rich and poor, educated and non-educated, male and female, young and old, all races and cultures, coming together in Christ. Not just thrown together, or gathering in the same place at the same time on a Sunday, but becoming part of the one family, under the one Father, the Father from whom every family takes it’s name. We’re not just co-habitating, we’re living together as a family.
Before we were married, I lived in a few share houses. In one the decision had been made to keep separate stashes of food, to cook meals separately, to only do things together that had been co-ordinated beforehand. We were living under the same roof, but we weren’t living together. The better share houses, which were the majority, we functioned as a family. We cooked for each other, we shared with each other, we cared for one another the way a family does. That’s a picture of what the church should look like, a family maybe not by birth, but by new birth.
This is the great mystery that was revealed to Paul and the mystery which he was commissioned to make known to all peoples. His mission was to preach the gospel, to the Gentiles, and to all the world. But that mission is ours as well. And it’s a mission that’s not just left to certain individuals like Paul, those who go out to other parts of the world. Look again at verse 10:
“so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.”
The church is the instrument by which God reveals himself to the world. Do you see how Paul is expanding what he’s said back in verse 6? In verse 6, the Gentiles are co-heirs, co-sharers, co-body parts with the Jews. But now what he’s saying is that this bringing together of opposites is so that we can proclaim the gospel. The Church is actually the means by which the wisdom of God is made know to the rest of creation. And not just our part of creation, it even includes the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places!
It’s as we build community that reflects God’s love that we begin to demonstrate the glory of God to the world. It’s as we build a community based upon the unity that God gives us in Christ that the wisdom of God in its rich variety begins to be seen by others. So how are we going to show the world how God’s plan is working? How will we demonstrate that his plan to restore the world to what it’s meant to be is taking place in us?
The way that we’ll do it is by demonstrating the unity we have in Christ, by showing how the relationships we have with one another have been changed, cleaned up, straightened out, by the work of the Holy Spirit within us. That’ll require some work won’t it? It’ll require good grace and lots of forgiveness and understanding as we seek to relate to one another, as we bear with one another in our weaknesses.
Because living together in unity and proclaiming the gospel to the world is such a big job Paul wants us to know that we don’t go into the role on our own. We’ve got help; we’ve got access to a great power. As the Church, we’re now in Christ. And so we have access, in Christ, to God in boldness and confidence! We can approach God in prayer! Which is what Paul goes on to do.
Do you see what Paul prays for? The first thing he prays for is that they might be strengthened in their inner being with power through his Spirit, according to the riches of his glory. The Holy Spirit brings us the same power that God used to raise Jesus from the dead. This is life-giving power. It’s the power we need to revive our hearts, to make them more like Jesus.
Then Paul prays that God’s love is something we would experience and that it would be the foundation of our lives. Paul prays that Christ would dwell in our hearts, that God would dwell within us, making his home within us. Paul’s not praying that we’ll just know God’s love in some intellectual way, but that it will experience it, that it will be at the very core of our being, that we will be rooted and grounded in God’s love. He’s praying that our lives will be built on the solid rock of Christ. He’s praying that we will be the seed that puts down deep roots and bears the fruit of righteousness.
Paul prays that we’ll experience what it feels like to be fully accepted by Jesus Christ; that we’ll experience this love that defies definition. But again, notice what he says in v18: “that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints.” The individual Christian can certainly know something of the love of God, but it needs the whole people of God to comprehend the whole love of God. We find this particularly as we experience the acceptance and forgiveness within the body that reflects what we receive from God.
Paul finishes his prayer with a doxology, a hymn of praise, that at the same time gives the grounds for expecting his prayer to be answered and the motivation for us to work towards allowing it to happen in our own lives. He says “Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.” What sort of power do you think is necessary for wilful human beings to be united as a Church? It’d take enormous power wouldn’t it? Almost too much for us to even think of asking for it. No, he says, the sort of power you’re talking about is already at work within us. And this power, already at work within us, is able to accomplish far more than we could even imagine.
And, finally, the motivation for all this? The motivation for us to be united as a Church? God’s Glory! He says “to him be glory (where?) in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” What we’re aiming for as a Church is that God would be glorified in and through us. And how will that come about? As we work towards unity. As we work at understanding one another. As we seek reconciliation with one another. As we forgive each other just as Christ forgave us. Then all will see God’s mystery revealed, as in the church they see his eternal wisdom, his eternal plan, coming to fruition.