The Revelation Of The Mystery
"For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you
Gentiles—if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which
was given to me for you, how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery
(as I have briefly written already, by which, when you read, you may understand
my knowledge in the mystery of Christ), which in other ages was not made known
to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy
apostles and prophets: that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same
body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the
gospel, of which I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God
given to me by the effective working of His power."
There are two things that must always be a part of our Bible reading and study: (1) An earnest effort to be completely objective, and (2) accepting as biblical truth, only what the context recommends.
First, we must take with us into all Bible reading and study, a clear, impartial, objective mind. There is a danger we must guard against: taking pre-conceived ideas and beliefs with us into the text of Scripture, assuming as we read and study the Bible that we see there the things we've always believed. This approach limits learning, keeps us from growing and may contribute to believing things which are not true (as decreed by God). Every time we open the Bible, we should be ready to learn and re-learn; ready to correct long-cherished traditions when such is called for by the truth of God's Word. Objectivity is fundamental to good Bible study.
Second, when we read and study the Bible, we must let the context inform our conclusions. We must not isolate a word or phrase, make a doctrinal case from that word or phrase, ignoring the context. In fact, all written and spoken communication deserves this same consideration. It is not fair to quote someone out of context. Bible reading and Bible study should always be done with careful attention to context. Let us apply these principles in the study of Ephesians 3. We must not impose onto the text some assumed agenda, and we must take careful account of the context.
In the New Testament book of Ephesians: in chapter one, the apostle Paul highlights the spiritual blessings God offers in Christ. In the second chapter, salvation by grace through faith is described in terms of being raised from spiritual death; being brought near by the blood of Christ; reconciled to God in one body, and being added to a building that has guaranteed structural integrity (see also 1 Pet. 2:4-8). In Ephesians 3 there is emphasis on the communication, the revelation of all of this to man; it is called The Revelation of The Mystery.
Paul describes himself as "the prisoner of Jesus Christ," because this was his circumstance at the time he wrote to the Ephesian church. He refers to his imprisonment here in Eph. 3:1, also in Eph. 4:1 and Eph. 6:20. Paul suffered incarceration. This injustice was the result, when he took the gospel to both Jews and Gentiles. Here, in Eph. 3:1, he describes himself in terms of his present condition, and his personal dedication to those of Gentile race. "For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles."
Paul said to the Ephesians, in verse 2: "if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you." Look at that word "dispensation," and you may think of the root English word: "dispense." All through the book of Ephesians, we learn about what God is willing to dispense to us in Christ. This is about God's generosity in what He is willing to dispense to man in Christ: "The dispensation of the grace of God."
Now the information and instruction about what a gracious God is willing to dispense was given to Paul. Notice that phrase in verse 2: "given to me for you." The gospel was given to Paul, but not just for his personal use. It was given to Paul, to convey to the Gentiles. Listen again to these first two verses: "For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you." This is about the dispensing of the gospel of the grace of God through the apostles. This is about the process that eventually produced this volume, this book we call "The New Testament."
How that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I wrote before in a few words, by which when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)." Observe, there are two key words here. When we define them as they are used in this context, that work puts us in better position to understand the whole passage. Notice "Revelation" and "Mystery."
Revelation simply means to uncover something. A helpful reference is found in Matt. 10:26 – "Therefore, do not fear them. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known." So to reveal (in the biblical sense) is to uncover; to let something be known.
The other word is "mystery." In this context, this simply means, something that was hidden, but has now been revealed. The word here, in Ephesians 3, is not identical to the modern use of the word "mystery," which often means something that cannot be known at all. No, the word "mystery" in Ephesians 3 means – something that was hidden, but has now been revealed. Two other passages in the New Testament use the word in this sense, Colossians 1:24-29 and Rom. 16:25-27. In fact, perhaps the best definition of this word mystery is Paul's statement in Romans 16:25-27.
"Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began but now made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith - to God, alone wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen."
Do you see this? "…the revelation of the mystery, kept secret since the world began but now made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures made known to all nations." For what purpose? "For obedience to the faith." Both in Romans 16 and in Ephesians 3 Paul wants us to know he was preaching the message not fully revealed in previous times. It was "kept secret" for ages, but on the day of Pentecost and as the New Testament was written, the apostles were revealing that message, the gospel. Paul said to the Ephesians: this is what I'm writing to you, and when you read it – you can understand it. In order for the Gentiles to be "fellow heirs," members of the body of Christ and partakers of God's promise in Christ through the gospel – it would be necessary to receive and respond to this message delivered by Paul, the gospel, the mystery hidden before but now made known.
This passage has enormous practical meaning today, for every one of us. The lesson is simple. Today, when people read the Bible, they can understand it and respond to it – to be members of the body of Christ and partakers of the promises of the gospel. Soberly consider Eph. 3:4 and the phrase: "when you read, you may understand."
If you want to understand the mystery of Christ, you must read it. If you want to know what God is willing to dispense to man in Christ, you must read about it. If you desire to know who Jesus is and what He accomplished on the cross for your redemption – you can read that and learn it. If you want to know what your response should be to this gospel truth, you must read it. "When you read, you may understand." Carefully, objectively reading the Bible; observing the context; being diligent in your thought and application, can revolutionize your life and put you in position to live as an obedient child of God.
Religion can be a subject of puzzling difficulty and disappointment. Just look around. On many corners of your community and at major intersections, you will see some huge religious complex, often including several buildings. Whatever you may be uncertain about, you are certain that there are many different kinds of churches and religions.
Some are admittedly and proudly denominational, aware of their historical roots and bold in their recruiting efforts to inform prospects of their traditions and creed. Others claim to be undenominational and independent. Community churches and ecumenical endeavors are popular. It is an obvious and generally accepted part of our religious culture – variety! Church buildings across the nation with various names, various and differing doctrines and great variance in organization and practice.
The Yellow Pages advertise the problem. You can turn through hundreds of listings of churches, marketed with all kinds of promises, claims, allegiances and attractions. So the matter of religion can be extremely discouraging, if you look down the street in your community, browse the Yellow Pages or surf the World Wide Web.
What should people do about religion? Close the Yellow pages and open the pages of the Bible! Instead of looking at what men have to offer, read what God has said. Religion will always be confusing and discouraging as long as your perspective is focused on what people do, what the modern culture offers, what is convenient and what has been institutionalized by men. Think outside that box! Change your focus. Read and study the Bible. When you get focused on the right thing, the pure and undefiled religion of Jesus Christ becomes simple, possible, practical and worth the devotion of your heart and life. It is both possible and necessary, to read and understand the Bible. That's the promise and teaching of Ephesians 3:1-7. It is our challenge.
By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 10.4; April 2003