The Mystery of the Gospel and it’s Work
In our last look into Ephesians, Josh was preaching to us from chapter 2 and we have been observing what Paul will describe in Chapter 3 as a “mystery”.
This word in English gives us a wrong impression of how it is used in the New Testament.
In the NT the word “mystery” means something that is beyond natural knowledge but has been opened to us by revelation through the Spirit and through the word. It is something that was previously unknown and now has been made known to God’s people. It’s now free information available to all who will see it.
Paul has been hinting at this mystery in chapter 2 that he is about to unfold for us in chapter 3:1-13.
Take a look at the “hints”:
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members (members is supplied in English to make sense of the lone word “house”) of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
So, what is this mystery?
Mystery of the gospel 3:1-6
Paul begins chapter 3 with the intent to pray and he digresses back to chapter 2 and this glorious and mysterious work of the gospel to be clearer in his writing about the gospel’s work in the Ephesians.
We know this because he picks up his prayer in verse 14 that he begins in verse 1. Verse 2-13 is Paul’s digression back to chapter 2 and it’s hinting at the gospel’s mystery. Paul wants to further explain it.
As a side note, this not-so-smooth writing, is a built-in indicator of the letter-nature of this work as the authentic work of Paul because it’s not a stylized and smooth theological treatise produced by later authors attributing the work to Paul.
Paul is writing the letter in real-time and needs to further explain what he has just written before going on to the prayer he is praying for them.
Paul begins his digression in 3:2-5 by explaining how the revelation of this mystery came to him.
So, what is this mystery of the gospel?
Let me summarize it with the “hints” from chapter 2: We, God’s people, are his workmanship (2:10), having been brought near (2:13), and the two divided people he has re-created into one new man in himself (2:15), and we (all those in Christ “him”) are not strangers and aliens but fellow citizens, members of the household of God, with Jesus himself the cornerstone, and we are growing into a holy temple in the Lord and being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit (2:19-22).
This mystery is that Father, in Christ Jesus, has made a new people in unity out of what used to be separate people. This is called the church.
At the fall all things fractured and broke. Eventually at Babel, the nations were separated and segregated due to the fall and their continuing rebellion.
In redemption, the Lord Jesus chose Abraham to be a blessing to all the families of the earth that were just divided so that there would be one family again like the beginning.
In the fullness of time, Jesus comes to die, secure salvation for those the Father has given him from all the families of the earth and to rise in order to secure their salvation from all the families of the earth and unite them in one people, one nation, one community, the community of the Kingdom of God, the church.
In verse 6 there are 3 words that describe what those who were outside are now. In each of Paul’s descriptions of how gentiles are now part of the new people of God, he uses a compound word. Each share the same particle “sun”. Literally it means “with” or “together with”. Typically it is translated as “fellow”.
1. In this mystery gentiles are fellow heirs
“sukleronoma” – fellow-heirs
2. In this mystery gentiles are members of the same body
“susoma” – fellow-members of the body
This is the only place in the bible where this word is used and has not precedent for being used outside of here. Paul had to make up a word to communicate this glory of outsiders now being insiders together with the insiders.
3. In this mystery gentiles are partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus
“sumetocha” – fellow-partakers
What do we take from this truth?
1. There is no segregation of race in the church, so we work for reconciliation.
2. There is no segregation of age in the church, so we work for unity.
3. There is no segregation of economic disparity in the church, so we work for equality.
This has effect on how we do ministry.
1. We don’t seek to segregate our RL Groups by age or any other demographic.
2. We don’t seek to provide ministry that allows people to disengage from their responsibility. (parents from their children in RK; in a growing student ministry we won’t provide what it is the parent’s job to provide thus segregating the family)
Paul does not end by simply telling us what the mystery is. Paul now points us to the ministry of the mystery of the gospel. This ministry is our application of the mystery of the gospel.
Ministry of the mystery of the gospel 3:7-13
1. Preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable (literally, riches that cannot be tracked) riches of Christ v. 8
1. Our scope is the “Gentiles” (all nations)
2. Our message is that Jesus always enriches life, never subtracts from life
3. We are to proclaim the message of the enriching work of Jesus in all of life and all domains of society.
There is no domain where Jesus does not enrich all of life.
1. Jesus supplies relational riches in all domains
2. Jesus supplies saving riches in all domains
3. Jesus supplies sanctifying riches in all domains
4. Jesus supplies practical riches in all domains
5. Jesus supplies eternal riches in all domains
4. We must know experientially that Jesus is better if we are to really make this known.
2. Tell the world about Jesus’ church v. 9
We are to bring to light the plan of the mystery (to create a new people from all nations, called the church) hidden for ages in God who created all things.
The God who chose to create all things chose to create a new people comprised of Jew and Gentile in one body with one leader, the church. Kent Hughes, in his commentary on this passage, calls the people of God made up of many nations the “third race”. Meaning that the people of God are no longer just their ethnic background, but their ethnic distinction is now subject to the identity of the kingdom of God and now the many are one.
We don’t loose distinction, but my distinction does not trump my identity as citizen of the kingdom first.
This mystery, now revealed, is to be told far and wide.
1. Invite people to church
No, “church” won’t save the rebel, but there is no better community where the gospel is being spoken of or adhered to than the community of the kingdom.
3. Be aware that our ministry proclaims the wisdom of God to the spiritual authorities v. 10
“Here it will help us to imagine a cosmic drama. The theatre is history. The stage is the world. The actors are the church. The writer is God, who also directs and produces the drama. And the audience? Cosmic beings.” – Kent Hughes
“The history of the Christian Church is the graduate school for angels. It is through the old creation (the universe) that God reveals his glory to humans; it is through the new creation (the church) that he reveals his wisdom to angels.” – John R.W. Stott, God’s New Society
1 Peter 1:10-12 tells us that angels long to look into this glorious mystery (literally, angels long to stoop). Angels are stooped over in their realm looking into the glorious work of Father to make a new mankind out of his people under the headship of the Son.
1. The church is central to history
2. The church is central to the gospel
3. The church is central to Christian living
This reality gives great significance to our engagement in the church and should drive our desire to be part of the community of the kingdom.
4. This mystery of one new people, the church, is Gods eternal purpose in Christ v. 11
5. We don’t loose when suffering for this ministry because it is our glory (it is to our glory to be about this work and our glory if we have to suffer for it) v. 13
“Verse 13 brings us back to the claim of v 1, that Paul’s imprisonment is ‘for the sake of you Gentiles’. His readers might be discouraged that God has allowed this apparent set-back, but Paul would rather have them see it as your glory. Why, after all, had he been arrested? It was because he stood for Gentile equality with Jewish believers in the one new-creation people of God, Christ’s body.” – D.A. Carson
1. If we suffer for the gospel in defending / advancing the church, we win
Psalm 147:1 “Praise the LORD! For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting.”