I've Got a Secret to Tell!
Many societies claim to have secrets that will unlock the mysteries of life and enable it’s initiates to get the inside scoop on meaningful living and insights on life after death. However, they want to keep the secret for a select circle of members.
In contrast, God is creating one new man, a new creation, a new society of the Third Race of the Twice Born, better known as the Church. To this society, He has committed the sacred secrets of eternal life – a life that begins in the heart of His followers and consummates at Home with Father God forever. And here’s the good news – He wants us to tell it out and shout it out and let the whole world know that they are invited to join the now open secret of God’s New Society, the only one that will continue forever.
In Ephesians 3:1, Paul appears to begin to pray for the Ephesians. As he starts to describe his prayer for them, the mention of “Gentiles” leads him to interrupt himself and go into a digression to show the Ephesians that his imprisonment in Rome should not cause them to doubt God or to question his legitimacy as an apostle. Rather than losing heart because of his sufferings, he wants them to see that his tribulations on their behalf were actually for their glory (3:13). Then in 3:14 he returns to his prayer.
So, in this digression, he reminds them again of God’s great gift of the gospel and of the gracious privilege of being able to serve and to suffer for Christ’s sake. Rather than grumbling about his imprisonment, Paul overflows with joyful gratitude to God.
Ephesians 3 throws back the curtains to reveal a mystery. In eternity past, the mind of the triune God conceived of the script for a grand mega drama of redemption. This script is revealed in Scripture and specifically in Ephesians 3:9-10. He created the universe to be the cosmic stage for the glory of his Son, and he predestined the church as the leading lady.
This passage is saturated with Paul's passion for the nations to worship the reigning Christ.
I. A Clarifying View of the Mystery – 3:3, 4, 9
Mysterion occurs twenty-one times in Paul’s letters, six times in Ephesians (1:9; 3:3, 4, 9; 5:32; 6:19). This term does not refer to something unknown. Rather it refers to what is known only because God revealed it. More specifically here, it refers to the revelation that the Gentiles are included in Christ as equals (3:6). In Colossians 1:26 the mystery is the word of God, though the next verse shows the focus there too is on the gospel for the Gentiles. Then in Colossians 2:2-3 the mystery is reduced to Christ himself, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (cf. mysterion in Eph. 1:9, which focused on all things being brought together in Christ). We may conclude that mystery refers to the revelation that all things will be brought together in Christ, and specifically that Jews and Gentiles are brought together. “In Christ” is key in understanding the mystery, for that phrase points to a double union—union with Christ and union of Jews and Gentiles in him.
A. The Mystery Unscrambles Circumstances – 3:1, 13, “…Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles…”
3:13, “So I ask you not to lose heart [not to faint or become despondent through fear] at what I am suffering in your behalf. [Rather glory in it] for it is an honor to you.”(Amplified Bible)
While we don’t go looking for hardship and suffering, we should not be surprised by it (cf. 2 Tim 3:12; 1 Pet 5:8-10; 1 John 3:13). It comes with the territory. Identification with Christ and His people, not only puts you in the family of God, but in the army of the Lord, where the training is hard, and the enemies intend to seriously harm you. So hardship is to be expected.
Paul was suffering unjustly from a human perspective. He had not done anything wrong. He was suffering because he had gone through a lot of personal trouble to do something good. He had raised a monetary gift from the Gentile churches and had personally taken it to Jerusalem to help alleviate the suffering of the Jewish people. Behind his actions, no doubt, was his strong desire to see the Jewish and Gentile parts of the church united in love. But when he got there, some Jews saw him in the temple and started a riot by falsely accusing him of bringing some Gentiles beyond the barrier in the temple. The riot led to Paul’s imprisonment, which had been going on now for about five years. During those years, Paul easily could have grown bitter towards the Jews who had falsely accused him, and even toward God, who had allowed this to happen.
If Paul had seen himself as the prisoner of the Jews, he would have been bitter at the Jews. If he had seen himself as the prisoner of the Roman government, he would have been angry about the miscarriage of justice. But he saw himself as the prisoner of Christ Jesus. Paul knew that the Lord only acted toward him with grace and kindness. And so, he could rejoice even in his sufferings.
The Ephesian Christians were in danger of becoming discouraged. Their founding pastor has been arrested and is in prison awaiting trial. And the wheels of justice have ground to a halt. He is not only in prison, but he has been in prison for a long time. They hear what he is going through and they know that they might be next. They feel for him and have prayed for him. But it seems that their prayers have not been answered.
They are beginning to wonder about it all. It appears that God's plan has failed. His apostle has been imprisoned. And this time there has been no earthquake to open the cell doors and no angel to lead the prisoner to freedom. Years have passed and Paul is still chained. But Paul wants them to know that there is a divine purpose at work. Knowing that purpose results in boldness - even from a Roman prison. And Paul's hardships have resulted in glorious growth.
B. The Mystery Unveils the Church – 3:10-11
“...that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
1. God’s Intention to Construct a New Society - Eph 2:22, “In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”
The church is not a divine afterthought. It is a part of God’s eternal purpose in Christ (Eph_3:11). To ignore this truth is to sin against the Father who planned it, the Son whose death made it possible, and the Spirit who today seeks to work in our lives to accomplish what God has planned. When you understand this truth, it gives you great confidence and faith (Eph_3:12). When you know what God is doing in the world, and you work with Him, you can be sure that He will work in you and for you. All of His divine resources are available to those who sincerely want to do His will and help Him accomplish His purposes on earth.
John Piper asserts that “The church of Jesus Christ is the most important institution in the world. The assembly of the redeemed, the company of the saints, the children of God are more significant in world history than any other group, organization, or nation. The United States of America compares to the church of Jesus Christ like a speck of dust compares to the sun. The drama of international relations compares to the mission of the church like a kindergarten riddle compares to Hamlet or King Lear. And all pomp of May Day in Red Square and the pageantry of New Year's in Pasadena fade into a formless grey against the splendor of the bride of Christ. Take heed how you judge. Things are not what they seem. The media and all the powers, and authorities, and rulers, and stars that they present are a mirage. "For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God" (Luke 16:15). The gates of Hades, the powers of death, will prevail against every institution but one, the church.”
God’s intention is to make His manifold wisdom known through the church. This new, comprehensive community is to serve throughout the universe as an object-lesson of the wisdom of God—his “much-variegated” wisdom.
F. F. Bruce says, “The church thus appears to be God’s pilot scheme for the reconciled universe of the future, the mystery of God’s will ‘to be administered in the fullness of the times,’ when ‘the things in heaven and the things on earth’ are to be brought together in Christ (Eph. 1:9-10).”
2. God’s Intention to Instruct the Angels – 3:10
“It is as if a great drama is being enacted. History is the theatre, the world is the stage, and the church members in every land are the actors. God himself has written the play, and he directs and produces it. Act by act, scene by scene, the story continues to unfold. But who are the audience? They are the cosmic intelligences, the principalities and powers in the heavenly places.” (Stott)
Peter tells us that the angels long to look into the matter of our salvation (1 Pet. 1:12). Some scholars think that Ephesians 3:10 refers only to the holy angels, some think it refers to the fallen angels, and some to both. I think it probably refers to both. (The fallen angels are referred to by the same terms in 6:12; in 1:21, it probably includes both.) To the fallen angels, the church, which exists because of Christ’s triumph at the cross, displays God’s wisdom and reminds them of their impending doom. The fallen angels thought that they had triumphed at the cross, but God displayed His wisdom by using that very means to gain ultimate and final victory (Col. 2:15).
What Divine Wisdom Are We to Make Known?
The best way to answer this question is to see what has in fact been made known to the church. We cannot display to others what has not been shown to us. There are three stages of revelation in Ephesians 3:1–10. First, Paul receives revelation from God (vv. 1–7). Second, the church receives revelation from Paul (vv. 8, 9). Third, the church makes this known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places (v. 10). Let's look at these three stages briefly to find out what the content of the revelation is in each case.
In verse 3 Paul says that "the mystery was made known to me by revelation.'' What is this mystery? In verse 4 it is called the "mystery of Christ." The time has come for the secret to be told to the world. What is it? Verse 6: the revealed secret is that in Christ Jesus and through the gospel the Gentiles are now to become fellow heirs (with Israel), members of the same body, and sharers in the same promise.
The second stage of revelation is that Paul preaches this good news to the nations. The gospel Paul preaches is the good news that the Gentiles may become fellow-heirs of Israel's promise by simply trusting Christ. The staggering secret of God is that he sent his Messiah to die for sins and to rise again in order to create a church of Jews and Gentiles on whom he could spend an eternity lavishing every possible blessing with all his infinite might (the unsearchable riches of Christ).
The third stage of revelation happens in verse 10. The wisdom of God is primarily the wisdom it took to devise a plan of redemption as great as this: a plan to unite and glorify Jew and Gentile, contrary to all human expectation, by the horrible death of the mighty Messiah.
John Piper asks, “How are we, the church, to make this wisdom known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places? I don't think Paul means that the cosmic mission of the church is to inform the satanic hosts about the purpose of God in sending Christ to die for our unification and glorification. They know all too well what God wants. That's why they can oppose him so effectively. What the church is to do is demonstrate the wisdom in God's mysterious plan. The wisdom of a plan is seen by the fact that it works. We show the wisdom of God by showing in the church that it is working. The death of Christ was not in vain: it has reconciled us to God, it has broken down the wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile and other races, it has produced one new body, and it has given us the hope of his immeasurable kindness forever. We show the wisdom of God to the cosmic powers by living this way, by being the church Christ died to create.”
II. The Compelling Voice Required for Gospel Ministry - 3:6
A. The Receiving of This Mystery Makes Us All Ministers of It – 3:7: “Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God's grace, which was given me by the working of his power.”
Yes, God had a “secret” - but He doesn’t want it to be a secret anymore! If you understand your wonderful position in Christ, then live up to it - and share the blessing with others. This “secret” was important to Paul, to the Gentiles, and to the angels — and it ought to be important to you and me today.
The very nature of the Gospel constitutes the Christian’s missionary charter. The Bible insists that every Christian is a trustee of God’s grace. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, “As we were allowed by God to be put in trust with the Gospel, even so we speak” (I Thess. 2:4). The spiritual wealth God has given to us in the Gospel is not our private property, not for our exclusive personal benefit, but a trust lodged with us for the benefit of others. We are “stewards of the mysteries of God,” according to Paul (I Corinthians 4:1), and “it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.” The Greek word for “stewardship” means the total management of a household.
When a person gains Christ through faith, he is immediately responsible to give Christ to others who are without Him. When he is saved by Christ, he is to share Christ. If he owns Christ as His own Savior, he owes Christ to the whole world.
One Buddhist monk observed, “To the Eastern religious it looks as if Christianity has reached the stage in adolescence when the child is slightly ashamed of his father and embarrassed when talking about him.”
Spurgeon said in a sermon, "Every Christian here is either a missionary or an impostor ... You either try to spread abroad the kingdom of Christ, or else you do not love him at all. It cannot be that there is a high appreciation of Jesus and a totally silent tongue about him." True! While not everyone will serve the nations in the same way, every Christian should assume the posture of a missionary and undertake to make disciples of all nations. Believing this to be true, and with this missionary passage in view, let’s consider this holy digression of the apostle Paul, the greatest of all missionaries, so we understand the former secret that God wants to be told to the ends of the earth.
Remember, it is not the imperative of an external command that sends us forth announcing the good news of the gospel, but the impulse and inward constraint of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
III. The Crowning Value of the Gospel Message – 3:8
The unsearchable riches of King Jesus belong to all who belong to Christ. So Paul could write, "Everything belongs to you! Paul, Apollos or Cephas; the world, life, death, the present or the future, everything is yours! For you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God" (1Cors 3:21-23, J.B. Phillips)!
Unsearchable riches are found in Christ’s person – the miraculous union of God and man. Unsearchable riches are found in the work he accomplished, in the offices which he fills for us – Prophet, Priest, and King. Unsearchable riches are found in the names and titles which are given to Him in the Scriptures.
What value do we place on the message of the gospel? How often do we tell it? How much do we sacrifice to propagate it?
other sermons in this series