Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 3:9a “And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the
mystery,. . .”
In addition to preaching Christ to Gentiles (3:8), Paul had another assignment. He not only had to tell people the “mystery,” the fact God was creating a new entity in which Gentiles and Jews would merge as equals. Paul also to demonstrate the fact this concept actually could work.
“See” translates “photisai,” which means to illuminate, to shed light upon, to make plain. “Fellowship” translates “oikonomia,” meaning “house law” (see at 3:2). It refers to administration, arrangement, the way details are handled. Paul’s assignment was to illuminate “all men” on the way the “mystery” was actually working out. He was not only to tell the “mystery,” but also to shed light on this wonderful new thing by proving it could work in the real world. Thus, Paul preached, but also established churches to serve as labs in which experiments of “the mystery” could be conducted.
The result was absolute success. Paul’s work illuminated “all men” to the worldwide possibilities of Christianity. He shed enough light on it to keep all open minds from ever being in the dark about it again. In his labors, “the grace of God shines with the brightness of noon-day” (Calvin).
The Church must preach Christ, but more is required of us. Talk is not enough. Some old sayings apply, “Practice what you preach”; “Proof is in the pudding.” The Church has to proclaim the message of inclusion, but must also in itself be the proof this concept can work. We have to be the test tube in which “all men see” the successful working of “the mystery.”
Eph. 3:9b “. . .which from the beginning of the world hath been
hid in God,. . .”
God’s plan to make all one in Christ was new to Paul and the world, but no after-thought to God. History has never been out of God’s hands. He has always been Overseer of all. From the first He meant to establish, based on the blood of His Son, a new family, a new race, a new nationality.
In “the beginning” God planned a surprise for mankind. He preserved it in His bosom, the cosmos’ ultimate Treasure chest, and prepared the world for its unveiling. At precisely the right moment, in the “fullness of times” (EP 1:10), God enacted “the mystery,” His ultimate strategy.
Eph. 3:9c “. . .who created all things by Jesus Christ:. . .”
These words return us to our genesis of all true knowledge about God. Paul assumed all Christians believe God created the world (HB 11:3). “Belief in creation is common to all believers in every age and part of the world” (Henry). Creation is the first lesson we teach our children about God, and the first lesson presented in Scripture. The first line of the Bible declares it (GN 1:1). Many have taken a first step toward apostasy or backsliding by repudiating a Divine creation. People who ultimately reject the Bible usually begin by doubting Genesis 1-11. Confidence in the creation account is fundamental to everything we believe, and provides the incubator in which are nurtured all other doctrines, including Paul’s “mystery.”
“Created all things” highlights God’s providence in the “mystery.” Why He kept His wonderful “mystery” a secret for centuries is His own business. This is YHWH’s Universe; in it He is sovereign. Since He created “all things,” He has the right to deal with “all things” as He chooses. He who creates has the right to determine destinies. He alone knows when the timing is right for what He chooses to reveal.
“Created all things” highlights God’s power in “the mystery.” Division between peoples is so dire that only a new act of creation can undo it. Do not despair. God created before and can create again. In the beginning God created out of nothing. Regeneration merely repeats this process.
What God did in the beginning, He continues to do through Christ. Due to the creation account in Genesis, we know God can bring order out of chaos, and enlighten darkness, and He still does these things in Jesus.
“Created all things” highlights God’s passion in “the mystery.” God desires to unite all peoples because He loves them all. No wonder God wants to save Gentiles as well as Jews. He made them all. The idea of One Creator harmonizes with the belief redemption is for all.
Accurately perceiving this as the heartbeat of God, Paul felt driven to make “all men” see how well the Gospel works. True Christianity sees itself as having a worldwide mandate. Before Christ, enmity between peoples was deemed natural and almost virtuous. However, the “mystery” revealed to Paul proves the barriers between men are not of God. God had to scatter mankind at Babel (GN 11). He knew our togetherness was resulting in evil, not good. Now, however, God promotes a means whereby people come together as one, resulting in good. God is uniting people in Christ.
The Church’s commission is to “every creature” (MK 16:15) in “all nations” (MT 28:19) unto “the uttermost part of the earth” (AC 1:8). Secular observors concentrate on ever-changing boundaries drawn on the atlas of the world. Nations fight over where to draw lines on a map, but Christians realize God’s ultimate concern is not boundary lines. The Bible concentrates on the Church, which knows no territorial bounds. The cross crosses all national lines. We strive for nothing less than worldwide evangelization.
God’s grace and Spirit are giving us progress. According to the Lausanne Statistics Task Force, Christianity is the world’s fastest growing religion, and is increasing three times faster than the world’s population is growing. In A.D. 100 there were 360 non-Christians for every Bible-believing Christian. The ratio has been getting smaller ever since: 220-1 in 1000; 69-1 in 1500; 27-1 in 1900; 21-1 in 1950; 11-1 in 1980; 6.8-1 in 1992. A denomination or nation may vanish, but the Kingdom of Christ is here to stay, and here to win. It will go on, marching, marching, storming the gates of hell, snatching firebrands from the fire, until Jesus comes again.
This continuous unfurling of the banner of Jesus throughout the world pictures a coming day will He shall rule Earth as King of Kings. Someday God is going to clean up His creation. Nothing will be able to thwart Him. He who “created all things” will someday consummate all things. Jesus will put Satan, demons, death, sin, and unrepentant sinners in one place, and keep them there forever. They will never again mess up anything.
You may be thinking, “Well, preacher, this is all well and good, but what about the here and now? In the meantime, until Jesus comes again, does God have a plan to help a fractured, divided world right now?” Yes!
“Created all things” highlights God’s purpose in “the mystery.” Creation implies design. From the first, God has known what He would do for the world’s problems. He has always had a plan, the one revealed to Paul. “The mystery”–God’s creation of a new entity through Jesus–is God’s only instituted plan to deal in a permanent way with what’s wrong in the world.
Knowing not everyone would be Christian, God established government as stop-gap measures to deal with the problems of society. However, all government reforms and programs yield only temporary cures at best. I do not mean to downplay government. It is ordained of God. My intent is merely to remind us of its prescribed role and its inherent limitations.
God made the world good. Sin, a spiritual problem, messed it up. This means every social ill has a spiritual root which can be permanently cured only by spiritual means. Paul Greenberg, L.A. Times columnist, gives an illustration of this truth. “In the early 1980s, the National Bureau of Economic Research released a hefty study of young people in the inner city. The econominsts found only one statistically significant factor in the lives of those who somehow managed to escape the crime, violence, drugs and poverty that threaten urban America. It was not child-care programs. It was not family-leave time. It was not a higher minimum wage. It was regular church attendance. . . .Attending church regularly was associated with a 20 percent drop in the incidence of criminal activity, 23 percent less drug use, and–get this–a 47 percent increase in potential income.”
Only the Church can offer ultimate solutions to the world’s darkness. Jesus, the true “light of the world” (JN 8:12), shines on darkness when the Church applies His “mystery” to individual and social darkness. Only then does the Church have the honor of being the secondary “light of the world” (MT 5:14). If believers do not challenge personal and collective darkness by deeds which matter, as well as with words, we have no reason to exist.
Apart from Christ and His Church, there is darkness, temporary solutions, band-aids on cancers. With the recent fall of Soviet Russia, it is in vogue to speak as if capitalism and democracy are bringing in a New Golden Age. Not true! Our own Foreign Mission Board warned us this era of good feeling would be only temporary, maybe five years long. Sure enough, we American believers are already hearing grumblings and complaints from Russian Orthodox churches about our sending mission teams to work there.
Nothing has permanently changed. Capitalism and democracy are wonderful, but offer only temporary help. Apart from God’s way in Christ, there is only abject darkness. Where the scepter of Mohammed holds sway, women are still treated as second class citizens. Where Hindu controls, children starve while cows are uneaten and deemed sacred. Where Christ’s tenets saturate culture, sin and corruption remain–much always has to be done because human nature abides–but in these places have taken place the best strides in social reform and in the humane treatment of human beings. We must proclaim Paul’s “mystery.” Jesus is the world’s only hope. Period!