Ephesians – Wayne Barber/Part 36
|By: Dr. Wayne Barber; ©2000|
|What is the “Divine Mystery” that God revealed to Paul? Is it something that we can or should be excited about? Dr. Barber explains.|
God’s Divine Mystery – Part 1
Turn with me to Ephesians chapter 3. We are going to be looking at verses 1-3. I want to show you “God’s Divine Mystery.”
We leave chapter 2 talking about life in the quarry. Verse 21 of chapter 2 says, “in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord.” The phrase, “living life where the chisel hits the stone,” so fits the idea of what the word “fitted” really means there in the text. It covers the whole process of what a stone goes through in order to be fitted properly into the building. If you will remember in the Old Testament, the stones were cut exactly to fit, and when they brought them to the Temple, there was no sound of hammer or chisel. Does that mean the stones were already there in the quarry in exactly the right size? No, in that quarry all the chipping and all the chiseling took place, so that stone could be what God wanted it to be. That is exactly what we are going through, life in the quarry. We are being chipped and rubbed and honed to get all the rough edges taken off as we are conformed into the image of Christ Jesus.
Remember that verb “fitted” has the idea of the passive sense which means we are being fitted. God is fitting us. But it also has the sense in which we need to put ourselves into a position to cooperate with His fitting process while we are here in the quarry. God is going to accomplish the task, but it is a lot better when we cooperate with what He is up to in our life.
The letter to the Ephesians is really a good illustration of what God can do through a man while He is doing something to a man. Paul was in a quarry. Paul is like you and me. He says in the book of Philippians, “I have not yet attained.” Part of his quarry living involved a few prisons here and there. While he was in those prisons, God squeezed out of him four of the greatest messages in the New Testament: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. You see, that is what quarries are all about. God is doing something to you in the quarry. If you will cooperate with Him, He’ll do something through you while you are in the quarry.
Well, this wonderful book of Ephesians was squeezed out of Paul while he was in the quarry. Chapter 1 covers the riches of our salvation. Paul wants the Ephesian believers to know the riches of their salvation. Not only that, in chapter 2 he gives the reasons for our salvation. We were helpless and dead (verses 1, 2 and 3). We were hopeless according to verses 12 and 13: “You were in the world without hope.” We were also homeless, so God made us part of His kingdom, part of His family and part of His Temple.
Now we start chapter 3, and I’ve got another title for you. Chapter 1 is the Riches. Chapter 2 is the Reasons. Chapter 3 is the Revelation of our Salvation. I want you to begin looking with me in 3:1. Paul says, “For this reason I, Paul.” I want to stop right there. If you move down to verse 14, he uses the exact terminology: “For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father.” Paul starts off to pray in chapter 3, but immediately he backs away. Before he prays, he wants them to understand something. Verses 2-13 could be put in parenthesis. He starts his prayer, suddenly stops, and then starts up again in verse 14.
Why does he do that? Well, he wants to tell them of a mystery that has been revealed to his heart. You see, the bottom line is, he is going to pray that what has been revealed to him will be revealed to them. That is what gives us our title, “God’s Divine Mystery.”
Let me give you a little outline of verses 1-13 that might help you. In verses 1, 2 and 3, he informs them of a mystery that was revealed to him. That’s what we are going to look at this time. In verses 4-6, he explains to them the mystery that was revealed. There is no question as to what it is. He tells you in those verses. In verses 7-9, he defends why he preached to them the revelation of this mystery. Then in verses 10-13, he proclaims to them the results of the preaching of this mystery. Now all of this is a prelude to his prayer in verses 14-21. You see again that he is going to pray that God would reveal to them what God had already revealed to him.
Let’s look at the mystery revealed in verses 1, 2 and 3. Now before the apostle Paul goes any further, he wants to tell them that a mystery has been revealed. In verse 3 he says, “that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief.” Now what is the word “mystery”? It’s the Greek word musterion. It means that which God has hidden and only God can reveal. Let me share something with you. Man hides things, and man can find what he hides. When God hides something, man, with all of his education, with all of his intelligence, cannot discover it. Only God can reveal the things He has hidden.
Paul says that this has been made known to him by revelation. Now what is the word “revelation”? It is the word apokalupsis. It is the word used in Revelation 1:1, the revelation of and by the Lord Jesus Christ. Who is it for? For the church. What does it mean? It means to take the lid off. It means to uncover. It means to pull the curtain back. In other words, there is something there that man has not understood, and God has chosen to reveal to man. We would not have the book of the Revelation, we would not have the book of Daniel, we would not have the Scriptures, if God had not chosen to reveal all of this to man. So what is this mystery he is talking about? The word itself means that which God has hidden and only He Himself can reveal to man.
In looking at this revealed mystery, I want us to see three things.
The Man to Whom the Mystery is Revealed
First is the man to whom the mystery is revealed. 3:1 says, “For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus.” By the term “prisoner” Paul means, “I am a man conquered by Christ Himself.” In Philippians 1:1, he uses the term “bond-servant.” “I am a love slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. I have chosen to serve Him for the rest of my life.” Here there is a different picture. It doesn’t take away from it. It adds something to it. He says, “I am a prisoner of Jesus Christ.” Now listen to what he is saying. Paul writes this letter from prison, but he lets them know immediately that he is not the prisoner of the Jews. He is not a prisoner of Rome. He is a prisoner of Jesus Christ. He might be in their prison, but buddy, he is not a prisoner of those people. He is the prisoner of the Lord Jesus Christ.
To understand that, you have to go to II Corinthians 2:14. There is no other way to explain it. Paul is talking about the fact that he had to go on to Macedonia. He couldn’t get with Titus and he begins to explain that whatever he does, he does as a captured, conquered man for Jesus Christ. He does it as a prisoner. He doesn’t call the shots. God calls the shots. Let’s look at verse 14 of II Corinthians 2. Paul says, “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in His triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place.” Paul uses a term there they would have understood. In the Greek it refers to being chained to a chariot.
In our culture, we don’t quite understand that. However, we need to see what they saw. He uses the picture of a general who goes out to battle and wins a great victory. He takes the commanders of the other armies, chains them together and chains them to his chariot. Now, he starts a processional back home. He has all the prisoners behind him. He has their leaders chained to his chariot. He sends a runner ahead of him. There is no telephone or telegraph, so he sends that runner. The runner comes into town and goes from door post to door post. He shakes incense all over everything so it has a sweet smelling aroma. What is that for? That is to let the people know that there has been a victory, that somebody has conquered something, and they are now coming home.
The people say, “Oh, let’s go down and line the streets.” They all come down and line the streets. Sure enough about an hour or two later, here comes the army. Here comes the commanding officer, and chained to his chariot are the captains of those armies that he has conquered.
Paul says, “I want everything that I do to send a message to the whole world, I am a prisoner of Jesus Christ. I am not only a bond-servant. I’ve not only chosen to serve Him, I am His prisoner. I’ve been captured, and I’ve been conquered. Whatever He wants is right in my life.” This is the man to whom the mystery is revealed. He is not only a bond-servant, he is a prisoner of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The People for Whom the Revelation of the Mystery Was Given
Second, I want you to see the people for whom the revelation of the mystery was given. It wasn’t just for Paul. Oh, it started with him, and it transformed his life, but it was for others. Look at verses 1 and 2: “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.” We want to see something here. God had specifically called Paul to preach to the Gentiles. Look up Acts 9:15; 15:7; 20:20-24; 22:21; Romans 11:13. Those are just a few of the scriptures to let you know God specifically singled Paul out and sent him with a ministry to the Gentiles.
Well, in Ephesians 3:2, he says, “you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you.” What in the world does the word “stewardship” mean? There are two things involved here. One is somebody managing a household. Then there is a secondary meaning of being a steward itself. A steward is one who manages something that is not his own. He manages somebody else’s household. He manages somebody else’s business. Paul is saying, “This ministry to the Gentiles that God has appointed me to was not my idea. It is not something that is of me. It is not something that came from my schooling with Gamaliel. It is something that God raised up. God, who is the great family steward, gave it to me. I’m the one now assigned with this ministry.” That is important.
A lot of folks don’t seem to understand that once you are chained to His chariot, once you are a bond-servant to Christ, God will appoint what He wants you to do. He has already gifted you to do it, and God will take over from that point on. It is not something you can achieve. It is something you just stand and receive. It is what God does through you while He is doing something to you. Let me show you some Scriptures.
Look in I Timothy 1:12-13. I want you to know, without a shadow of a doubt, this ministry to the Gentiles was appointed by God. God revealed something to Paul. For whom did he reveal it? The Gentiles. It is all God’s doing. He says, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service; even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor.” That ought to give us some hope. You may have veered, but God can bring you back and make you near by the blood of Jesus. Then He can change you and put you right into the work of the ministry. God assigns ministries. God begins them. God ends them. Whatever happens, God does it.
Now look with me in Romans 15:15-16, and we find again where Paul is talking about the ministry God has given to him. “But I have written very boldly to you on some points, so as to remind you again, because of the grace that was given me from God, to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles.”
Look in Galatians 2:9, where we can easily see that God gave him this ministry. Now, if God gave him the ministry, that is why he revealed the mystery. The mystery wasn’t for Paul. The mystery was for those he was assigned to minister to: “and recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we might go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised.” He is saying, “They went to the Jews, but I was given the ministry to go to the Gentiles.” That is why the mystery was revealed.
Look at I Corinthians 4:1: “Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.” Was the mystery he is talking about in Ephesians 3 the only mystery? No. But it is the basic one which he comes off of in his ministry. We will talk about what that is in a moment.
So, when God spoke to him, he was a man who was a prisoner. He was captured and conquered. God revealed something to him, not just for him, but for others to eternally benefit. God wants to do the same thing in your life. What He reveals in our hearts is never for just ourselves. It is always to be shared with someone else. Paul says in 3:1: “For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles.” The whole thing he is saying here is, “This mystery was revealed for you, not just for me. I am a prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of the Gentiles.”
He was in prison. Do you remember the story of how he got there? Paul was so faithful. God appointed him, and Paul went out. He served his whole life doing what God had assigned him to do. Acts 13 shows when he was commissioned and sent out. How did he get to prison to begin with? The book of Acts tells how he went over to Jerusalem. He wanted to go to the elders of the church there in Jerusalem. Here he is, a converted Jew, and he couldn’t wait to tell them about all the Gentiles he had led to Christ. He gets there, and James and the counsel say, “Well, Paul, that is wonderful. We are excited for you, but we are worried about something.” Paul said, “What is that?” They said, “We have some Jews here in Jerusalem who have become believers, but they are babies who haven’t got out from under legalism yet. They see you as a threat because they don’t want to see anybody but Jewish believers. They don’t believe there can be Gentile believers.”
They said, “Paul, you need to do something about it. Go down to the Temple and let them see you in the Temple doing the things that you ought to be doing in the Temple. That will make them feel better, and everything will be fine.”
So Paul went down to the Temple. There were some Jews there from over in Asia Minor, maybe even from Ephesus. They saw him in the Temple, and they had seen another man, Trophemus, who was associated with Paul, walking the streets of Jerusalem. They said, “He took Trophemus [who was a Gentile] behind the dividing wall! He is wrong.” They spread a lie about him, saying he had desecrated the Temple because he took a Gentile behind the barrier of the dividing wall. Well, the penalty of that in Jewish law is death.
That incident started about a seven-year period in his life that was agonizing to say the least. He was taken to Caesarea under armed guard where he was kept for two years. Then he was sent to Rome, and he has been in a Roman prison now for almost three years. They still have not given a basis for the accusations made against him. What does it say in Ephesians? “I am a prisoner for your sake. I was standing up for you, Gentiles. I was telling everybody how you are coming to know Christ, and they didn’t like it. They put me in jail, but I am still a prisoner of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Do you see? God revealed a mystery to Paul, and it so shook him up that it effected the rest of his life. God gave him a people for whom the mystery was given. It effected their lives for all of eternity. The people to whom or for whom the mystery was revealed obviously were the Gentiles.
The Focus of the Mystery
Third, there is the focus of the mystery: “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.” He has already said something about this mystery.
Go back to Ephesians 1:9: “He God the Father made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him.” Now, how did it get made known to all of us? It says in chapter 3 later on that he revealed it first to apostles and prophets. Why? So that they could reveal it to you and me. So, we know that the mystery has been revealed, and we know that we can understand it through the words of the New Testament.
What is that mystery? Chapter 2:11-18 is the mystery. Verse 14 says, “For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace.” The mystery revealed to Paul is that the Jew and the Gentile are made into one brand new man in Christ Jesus. What does that mean? It means He didn’t make the Jew a Gentile, and He didn’t make the Gentile a Jew. When they come to Jesus, they are brand new creations in Christ Jesus. Paul saw this. God revealed that to his heart. The specifics of chapter 3 and the focus of what he is talking about is not that he is included as a Jew, but the fact that they are included as Gentiles.
Look at verse 6 of chapter 3: “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.” You know, you can’t quite grasp this unless you realize that Paul is a Jew. Who is more excited about it? Is it the Gentiles who are now a part or the Jew who is finally realizing that they are not some group that shuts everybody else out? They are included, but so are the Gentiles. Paul is saying, “God revealed that.” He says in verses 14-21, “I am praying that God will reveal to you what He has revealed to me.”
You are in the quarry. “I don’t like being in the quarry, Brother Wayne.” Well, don’t tell me. Tell God. He put you there. I am in the quarry. I don’t like the quarry. What do we do in the quarry? I have become a bond-servant. I become a prisoner of Christ so captured, so conquered that whatever He does is right. God does something to me, not only in the chiseling, but in the revelation and in the understanding of the Word that I didn’t have before and can’t have without that surrender in my heart. God wants to do something through me that others will be effected through all eternity. God wants to reveal to you and me things that we can’t discover by our own humanistic intelligent mind. As a matter of fact, if you put our minds next to God, you would not even have a contest. We don’t show up on the scale. God says, “You want to understand me? Do you want to understand what I have written through these apostles and prophets to whom I revealed this mystery? Then you are going to have to get yourself in the same position they were in, prisoners, captured and conquered by Jesus Christ Himself.