College & Career Class Lesson Summary, October 21, 2018
It is often overlooked just how important Paul’s ministry is and likewise his message. If we were to summarize Paul’s purpose, we could use 1Corinthians 2:9. Many use this verse to speak of the hereafter in heaven (and, I wouldn’t say it couldn’t be about that), however, as Paul is quoting Isaiah 64:4, he is doing so because of what trusting God produces.
1Corinthians 2:9 But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.
What would make Paul make such a conclusion? We’ll get there soon enough. Suffice it to say, Paul often preaches a message that he describes as being a mystery. It is this mystery that leads Paul to make this statement in 1Corinthians 2.
In Deuteronomy 29:29, we find the statement that the secret things belong unto God, but those things that were revealed (at that time and up unto that point) were revealed unto the children of Israel. Israel understood that God hadn’t revealed everything there was. They knew this as if it was an obvious common fact that indeed God had secrets. However, Israel was to understand that they can be equally confident in both what God had revealed to them and what God was keeping from them. At the end of the day, it is the same God who John would describe with the name of Faithful and True. In other words, these secrets weren’t of any malicious intent or of an arbitrary nature to simply keep Israel in the dark on certain things. If we can ascribe the word “strategy” to God’s plans, there is great strategy behind this mystery…as we’ll see!
Not only did God keep secrets, but He would also use language that would conceal information unto those who couldn’t care any less, yet, for those who had their ears attuned to His voice, these concealing messages were easily decipherable. Of course, I’m speaking of the parables of Christ. The disciples approached Christ and asked about this use of parables. Note Christ’s words:
Mark 4:10 And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parable. 4:11 And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: 4:12 That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.
God’s stewardship of information is certainly within His grasp to determine its dissemination and how He wishes to disseminate such. As the writer of Hebrews opens the book of Hebrews,
Hebrews 1:1 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, 1:2 Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;
One thing is for certain, it is no mystery that God keeps secrets. So, how does this impact the Ephesians (and by extension, you and I)? Recall that God determined to bring the blessing of Abraham (righteousness by faith) unto all the world and He divinely chose Israel to be the vessel to make this happen. Recall that Paul writes to the Galatians and reminds them that Jesus Christ was indeed the promised seed of Abraham – the blessing of Abraham. And, even though God is keeping some secrets about this, He nonetheless indicates that there will be a reality one day where Jew and Gentile would enjoy the same standing, together, unto Him.
Isaiah 56:4 For thus saith the LORD unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant; 56:5 Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off. 56:6 Also the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to the LORD, to serve him, and to love the name of the LORD, to be his servants, every one that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of my covenant; 56:7 Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people. 56:8 The Lord GOD which gathereth the outcasts of Israel saith, Yet will I gather others to him, beside those that are gathered unto him.
It is clear that this expression of grace isn’t just reserved for the Jew, but even unto the strangers (Gentiles). Whether or not Israel grasped this is irrelevant to God bringing it forth. Israel often balked at their opportunity to bring Gentiles into the fold (i.e. Jonah). However, Israel would often simply just watch the Gentiles be blessed and would cross their arms in stubborn self-pity.
In Isaiah 56, we see an example of God demonstrating that the collection of all people of faith unto Himself is something that He has always purposed. This has been the desire of God from the beginning. Paul echos this fact at the beginning of Ephesians and reiterates it in chapter 3,
Ephesians 1:9 Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: 1:10 That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him:
Ephesians 3:10 To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, 3:11 According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord:
On a few occasions, Paul appeals to the prophets as the foundation of the this mystery he preaches.
Ephesians 2:19 Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; 2:20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;
By the way, note the language of Ephesians 2:19 and compare it to what we read from Isaiah 56.
Romans 16:25 Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, 16:26 But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith:
This mystery concerning Jesus Christ was the very core of Paul’s message. It is worth noting that Paul’s message, although a revelation of a secret God had been keeping, was not the commencement of a new program of God. God’s plans had always been marching forward, yet God chose to call Paul to reveal information as to how God would accomplish Isaiah 56 and indeed Ephesians 2:19.
What we don’t see spelled out in the Old Testament is exactly how God would make all of this happen. God was keeping this a secret and for very good reason (as we said above). Paul was God’s chosen vessel to inform those of faith that there was a message of grace and of unity (Jew and Gentile) in the person of Jesus Christ. But, why would God not have told folks about this prior to Paul? Let’s let Paul tell us,
1Corinthians 2:6 Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: 2:7 But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: 2:8 Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 2:9 But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.
And there it is. Had the princes of this world knew what God would accomplish through Jesus Christ, they would never have crucified Him. Jesus Christ is an affront to this world’s intentions and course. The very seats of power behind the rulers of this world (“…spiritual wickedness in high places…” as Paul says) would never have participated in the death of Christ had they known that God would use the death of Christ to turn into the greatest victory for mankind. This is why Paul can quote Isaiah 64:4 in verse 9 and say that eye has not seen nor ear heard, nor has it ever entered into the heart of man the things that God has prepared for them that love him. Paul is steadfastly confirming the reality that even though God is keeping secrets, you can trust Him nonetheless that those secrets are for our good because of what is being accomplished, and in this case, it is the gospel of grace that Jesus Christ IS by His death, burial and resurrection.
Hopefully you can see that even though the Old Testament speaks of this union of Jew and Gentile, it wasn’t until Jesus Christ died and rose again, and Paul was given the message, that we come to understand why God was keeping the mechanics of this union a mystery. Paul is describing this to the Ephesians. Chapter 2, verse 11 unto Chapter 3, verse 11 is an interlude in the letter where Paul explains this union to be a reality and how it came to be.
Ephesians 3:1 For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, 3:2 If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: 3:3 How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, 3:4 Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) 3:5 Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; 3:6 That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel: 3:7 Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power. 3:8 Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; 3:9 And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ:
Paul was the relay man – he was thrown the ball of grace from God Himself so he could turn around and throw it to us. Remember that “dispensation” is simply a term of something that has been dispensed. The dispensed grace of God is what Paul is relaying to us. Paul was made known this information by revelation of Jesus Christ for it was not made known at other times, but it is now revealed unto Paul, however not just Paul, but unto all Christ’s holy apostles and prophets. What is made known? That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs and of the same body and partakers of his promise IN Christ by the gospel. It is of this message that Paul was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace. Note that, by the way, Paul viewed his ministry as a gift of grace because he felt himself to be the least of all saints to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ and to make all men see what the fellowship (union) of the mystery is.
How does this impact us as believers? Paul is going to conclude his interlude and continue to expound upon what it means to be in union in Christ. The book of Ephesians could very well be referred to as Paul’s guidebook on Unity. Sadly, many believers take solace in a divisive mind and attitude about others and they believe they are taking a stand for God when they do so. But, remember that Paul, when wreaking havoc of the church, also believed he was doing God’s work. Unity in Christ, the only place true unity is found, is our reality – but will we let it consume our reality?
Our story continues…