Bible Topics In The Christian Library
 
THE MYSTERY OF THE GOSPEL

Ephesians 3:1-11

INTRODUCTION: Our family recently toured Meramec Caverns, not far from our home. One of the fascinating things about this cave is that is has some significant historical value. During the time of the Old West Frank and Jesse James were active around the area of the caverns. Each time they would be pursued by posses they would seemingly disappear into thin air. It was a mystery that lasted for over fifty years. Finally, in the 1930's it was discovered that there was a whole series of caverns that had been undiscovered. They had been undisturbed for years because they had been blocked by water. But one year there was a drought which caused the water to go down some. This revealed that there was crawl space into another room of the cave. What they found solved the Jesse James mystery. The James boy had always gone in the cave, hid their horses, and swam the 20 feet underwater into the hidden room. After hiding their loot they would wade down the underground river to where it emptied to the outside. 

Mysteries can sometimes be hidden for many years. Paul talks about a mystery that had been hidden, known by God throughout the centuries, but only revealed in Paulís generation. It was the mystery of the gospel. 
 

BODY

I. PAUL WAS A PRISONER OF THE MYSTERY.(Verses 1-4)

A. Paul was a prisoner for the preaching of the revealed mystery (Verse 1).
 
1. Paul considered himself a prisoner of Christ. It is not because of the Romans or Jews that Paul is in chains. It is for the furtherance of the gospel.
 
a. Philippians 1:7 - just as it is right for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart, inasmuch as both in my chains and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers with me of grace.

b. Colossians 4:3 - meanwhile praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains,
 

2. Paul was not ashamed of his bonds, and he encouraged others to not be ashamed of him either.
a. 2 Timothy 1:8 - Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God,

b. 2 Timothy 2:9 - for which I suffer trouble as an evildoer, even to the point of chains; but the word of God is not chained.
 

3. Paul wanted them to know that he was not unhappy or distressed. We must look past our temporary discomfort and distress to a spiritual good that we can do in our circumstances. "If all we can see is our immediate situation, then our circumstances control us" (John MacArthur).
B. It was for the very purpose of preaching the revealed mystery of the Gospel that he was in chains (Verses 2-3). 
 
1. Paul had the blessed opportunity of being the great revealer of the mystery (once hidden plan) of God.
 
a. Dispensation here comes from the Greek word, oikonomia, which literally means, "administration (of a household or estate); spec. a (religious) "economy":--dispensation, stewardship."

b. Paul considered himself a divinely appointed steward over the great mystery of God.

c. 1 Corinthians 9:17 - For if I do this willingly, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have been entrusted with a stewardship.
 

2. This is the very reason for any preaching - to make know Godís mystery (once hidden plan).
 
a. Romans 1:16

b. Romans 16:25 - Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began
 

C. It was a mystery that had been revealed to him.
 
1. Paul had received what he was declaring to them from God, and not from other men.
 
a. Galatians 1:11,12 - But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. 12 - For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.
2. 1 Corinthians 14:37 - If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord.

3. It is thus incorrect to try to "soften" any words Paul writes by saying that they are just his words and not from the Lord.
 

C. It is a mystery that can be understood by all (Verse 4).
 
1. Notice that while it was revealed by divine revelation to Paul, those who read what Paul wrote could understand this mystery.

2. This statement that Paul made implies at least three great truths.
 

a. We can know the truth. Thus, there is an objective standard for truth. There are some things we can KNOW. See John 8:32 and John 17:17.

b. It is possible to understand the truth without a direct leading of the Holy Spirit. Paul wrote to be understood. It was clear that the Holy Spirit had a hand in the teaching. He revealed the message to Paul. Paul then communicated the message to the Ephesians by his writing. They did not need the Holy Spirit "energizing the pages" or "illuminating the word" to understand the message.

c. Paul wrote so he could be understood. Preachers need to write, teach, and preach a message than can be understood. It should not be fair words that lead away others into error (Jeremiah 12:6) but sound words (2 Timothy 1:13) that will strengthen Christians and convert sinners.
 

3. We are to study from Godís truth, the Bible, for His revealed will.
 
a. John 5:39; Acts 17:11; 2 Timothy 2:15
 
 
II. PAUL REVEALS THE PLAN OF THE MYSTERY (Verses 5-6).
 
A. Godís plan had been hidden in ages past, but was now made know to inspired men (Verse 5).
 
1. 1 Peter 1:10-12

2. It is a plan which could not have been understood simply by reading the Old Testament. The New Testament fully brings to light the divine truth that was spoken of in symbols, shadows, and figurative language. It is much like a night light in a room. One can see shadows and darkened figures, but cannot see clearly until the ceiling light is turned on.
 

B. What was the mystery? (Verse 6).
 
1. It was that both Jew and Gentile were to be joined together in one body united in Christ Jesus.

2. The Gentiles would be -
 

a. Fellow heirs - Every promise of eternal inheritance would apply equally to both Gentiles and Jews.

b. Members of the same body - All would be equal in the body of Christ.

c. Partakers of the same promises in the gospel of Christ - Every promise of forgiveness, joy, and peace would apply equally to both Jew and Gentile.
 

3. The mystery was spoken of in the Old Testament, but was completely revealed in the New.
 
a. Genesis 12:3 and Galatians 3:8

b. Isaiah 49:6 - a light to the Gentiles, Acts 13:46-47 through the offering of Christ.

c. Amos 9:11 - rebuild the tabernacle of David, Acts 15:16 - refers to the Gentiles.
 

4. It is a truth that we must always keep ever before us. There is no distinction between races today in the sight of God. Any prejudice we have toward others of a different race is sin.
 
 
III. THE PREACHING OF THE MYSTERY (Verses 7-9).
 
A. Paul became a minister by the gift of the grace of God (Verse 7).
 
1. He did not believe that he had any right to the ministry, but was there because of the unmerited favor of a loving God.
 
a. 1 Corinthians 15:9-10 For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 - But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.

b. 1 Timothy 1:12-16
 

2. Minister here comes from diakanos, which means "a servant."
B. What Paul preached (Verse 8).
 
1. He preached the "unsearchable riches of Christ."

2. Look at all the blessings that the Christians in the First Century had, even though many had little of this worldís goods.
 

a. Fellowship with God and each other.

b. Pardon from sins.

c. The assurance of eternal life.

d. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
 

3. These are blessings which every Christian has today, but we often take them for granted.
 
a. "Would these intangible blessings satisfy our modern church members, who have to be entertained, coddled, flattered, babied, and tricked into being faithful ? These need to learn the preciousness of being in Christ, the joy of Christian fellowship ( I John 1 :3), the joy of the Holy Spirit (I Thessalonians 1 :6)." (Wilbur Smith)
 
 
IV. THE PURPOSE OF THE MYSTERY.
 
A. It is to make known Godís wisdom to the heavenly powers (verse 10).
 
1. Angels have desired to see the things we enjoy. 
2. 1 Peter 1:12 - To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven; things which angels desire to look into.

3. While we cannot know for certain every aspect of this passage it seems as if Paul is saying that the gospel vindicates Godís desire to save sinful and rebellious man and allow him to live in Heaven. It shows that even angels, citizens of Heaven, did not have unlimited knowledge. This being the case we should not doubt that the wisdom of God might often be beyond our comprehension.
 

B. This shows that the church is the means of demonstrating Godís wisdom.
 
1. It is in the church that forgiveness of sins by the blood of Jesus comes - Acts 20:28

2. The saved are added to the church - Acts 2:47

3. The beauty of Godís wisdom is seen in the relationship between Christ and his church - Ephesians 5:22-33.

4. Both Jew and Gentile are brought together in one body, the church - Ephesians 2:14-20
 

C. This whole plan, the mystery, the wisdom of God, the church, was planned from eternity.
 
1. It began before the foundation of the world.
 
a. Revelation 13:8 - All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.
2. It was promised immediately after the fall.
 
a. Genesis 3:15
3. It was repeated to Abraham.
 
a. Genesis 12:1-3
4. It was spoken by Isaiah.
a. Isaiah 2:1-4
5. It was foretold by Malachi.
 
a. Malachi 3:1
CONCLUSION: The overall theme of Ephesians is the glorious church. How glorious the mystery of God, hidden from eternity, but now revealed to His people. Godís wisdom has its repository in the glorious church, the heir of the mystery, and the means through which the wisdom of God is made known to all.
 
 

Copyright 1999 by Grady Scott may be reproducted for non-commercial purposes at no cost to others.


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