Paul: Administrator of the Mystery

October 28, 2012 / No. 3643

Dear Radio Friends,
The church of Jesus Christ is worldwide. For centuries Christ has gathered His chosen saints from among the many nations and languages of the earth. That is normal. It does not amaze us, really. It has been going on for a long time already—so long that we never really give it that much thought. What has become so common to you and me, however, was not always true. The church at one time was not universal. The church for thousands of years was limited to one little nation of the earth. The various nations and peoples of the earth were not saved—none of them. God chose to save His people, with but very few exceptions, out of the nation of Israel. All nations outside of Israel were not included in the church. That you and I are saved today and are given by God to be a part of the church of Christ is an amazing and gracious work of God—one that we ought never to take for granted.
The very existence of the Ephesian church was a new phenomenon. Not the existence of the church, mind you, but the existence of a church made up of Gentile people. They were a part of something brand new. God had chosen to save them, together with the Old Testament saints out of Israel. As Paul states in Ephesians 2:18, “through [Christ] we both [Jew and Gentiles] have access by one Spirit unto the Father.”
It is this subject that lies at the heart of the verses that we consider on today’s broadcast: Ephesians 3:7-9. We read there:
Whereof I [that is, Paul] was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power. 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; 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.
This passage lies at the heart of this entire letter of Paul. There are so many important themes that Paul expounds for us in this letter. But the one central theme of Ephesians is the mystery spoken of in the verses we consider. We considered that mystery already, in part, in connection with chapter 2. In these verses Paul defines the mystery spoken of in this letter.
For centuries God’s saints in the church were confronted with a puzzling mystery that they could not seem to solve. Paul informs us in verse 9 that from the beginning of the world this mystery was hid with God. Or, again, we learn in the beginning of verse 5 that this mystery in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men. It was not as if this mystery had not been set forth both in the promises and prophecies of the Old Testament. It was recorded repeatedly in the pages of the Old Testament Scriptures. But Peter tells us in I Peter 1:10, 11: “Of which salvation the prophets have inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified before hand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.”
In other words, the reason the saints of old could not solve this mystery was because God did not choose to open their eyes and understanding to it yet. We learn in II Corinthians 3:14, 15, that the eyes of the Old Testament saints were blinded, for there remained a veil untaken away in the reading of the Old Testament. The reason this was true of God’s saints in the Old Testament was because the Spirit of Truth had not yet revealed to them the mystery. Just as in the case of a murder there may be all kinds of facts or evidence available, the case remains a mystery until everything adds up and the murderer is revealed. So also with this mystery of the gospel.
What truth about the church from the beginning of the world was hid in God who created all things? This, verse 6 of Ephesians 3: “That the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body and partakers of [God’s] promise in Christ by the gospel.” That is the mystery. It was prophesied by Noah when he blessed his sons. It was given to Abraham when he was sent to the land of Canaan. It was evident in the very name of Abraham: the father of many nations. It was prophesied over and over again by the prophets. The psalmist recorded it in many of his songs. All the evidence of a universal church, a church gathered out of all the nations of the earth, was there in Old Testament Scripture. But the saints could not figure it out because the Spirit had not yet chosen to reveal this blessed truth to the saints of old. What is now so commonplace to you and me that our minds cannot comprehend a church without its universal nature, was beyond the imagination of the Old Testament church.
In fact, that phrase in verse 9 of our text, that this mystery has from the beginning of the world been hid in God who created all things, is revealing in itself. This mystery, we are told, was hid in God. The gathering in of a universal church was in the plan of God from all eternity. God did not view His church in eternity piecemeal, so to speak. He did not see His church as consisting of the nation of Israel with the Gentile nations tacked onto it later on in history. In God, the church is one whole, a body. God decreed and comprehended His church as a whole in His plan. In God, the nations of this world are as much a part of God’s plan as was the nation of Israel. But this truth was hid in God before the coming of Christ and the pouring out of the Spirit.
When we think on these things, fellow believers, we have so much to be thankful for, so much. What Paul writes in Romans 9:26 is true now: “And it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people; there shall they be called the children of the living God.” We were not a people unto God. We were strangers from the covenant of promise and without God in this world. Now we, too, are called by the name of Christ. We, too, are a part of the church of Jesus Christ in this world. God is fulfilling His plan for all things in His church today.
The task of making known this great mystery was given specifically to the apostle Paul. The other apostles also were given to know and to preach this gospel concerning the church. But Paul was specifically chosen by Christ for this task. Notice what Paul writes of himself in verses 7 and 8 here: “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. 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.” Paul was made the minister, that is, the person called to serve the church in the great capacity of preacher to the Gentiles. This office was the gift of God given to Paul—to make all men understand that mystery was now being carried out. God was at that very time gathering into His church the Gentile nations. Paul has become the administrator, or the dispenser, of the knowledge that Christ’s church has now become universal. He was the preacher sent to the nations, the Gentiles, with the good news that salvation is freely given by God to all peoples. What was shut up to the nations of this world in the past is now freely given by God to all men through the administrator of the mystery: Paul.
That Paul was chosen and called to this task was evident in the instruction Christ gave to Ananias after Paul’s conversion. We read in Acts 9:15 these words of Christ: “Go thy way: for he [Paul] is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel.” Christ called and ordained Paul to this special task of administrator of the mystery. And Paul was fully aware of this and verified his position everywhere. For example, in Romans 11:13 Paul writes: “For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office.” That was Paul’s particular place in the church. His gift was the special position chosen by God and given him.
Paul says in verse 7 that his position was given him by the effectual working of Christ’s power. What he means by this, first of all, is that he was appointed by Christ through the powerful work of his conversion on the road to Damascus. That is where Christ’s power was first revealed to him and in him.
But the effectual working of Christ’s power was ultimately displayed to Paul when he was directly instructed by Christ in Arabia. Paul writes of this experience in the first few verses of II Corinthians 12. Though we do not have time to read those verses, we must notice in them that no other man ever received such a powerful work by which the mystery of the church was revealed to him. Christ revealed it directly to him in the wilderness. If anyone had reason to glory in himself, the apostle Paul did. But Paul did not boast in himself. Rather, he accepted his office as a gift of grace. Notice verse 7: “Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God.” Or, verse 8: “Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given.” Paul’s office was a gift. It was freely given him of God on the basis of God’s unmerited favor alone. That is grace. Paul received the gift of his office on the basis of God’s favor, a favor that he, Paul, did not deserve. I am less than the least of all saints, Paul states.
You are God’s saints, people of God, Paul writes to the Ephesian church. You are those sanctified and made holy in the blood of Christ. Well, I am less than the least of you. I am lowest on the totem pole. I do not deserve what God has freely given me in my office. I persecuted the saints and church of God. I breathed out threatenings against them. I hated them. I deserve nothing but punishment from the hand of God. But I thank Christ Jesus who has enabled me, for that He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry.
Oh that every officebearer in Christ’s church might bear that humility. No man may usurp to himself an office in the church. They who try to put themselves forward in this regard do so only out of pride and self-glory. Every officebearer who serves must be lawfully called by Jesus Christ through His church and must serve in utter humility. There is no room for a proud officebearer in Christ’s church. There is no room for a man who will attempt to rise in power and influence above the other officebearers. If anyone had the right to do this, Paul did. But he served with deepest humility, knowing who he was.
When we serve in the capacity of an officebearer in the church, whether that be preacher or elder or deacon, let us do so in meekness and sobriety. What was true of Paul must be true of us. We will consider this more in detail when we consider those offices in connection with Ephesians 4.
There were two great truths Paul was commissioned to preach to the Gentiles. The first truth, we are told in verse 8, was the unsearchable riches of Christ. The Greeks in Ephesus lived in a city that abounded in earthly wealth and prosperity. Society was filled with riches. God’s people, along with the pagans in that city, all had plenty. These saints then could well understand when Paul spoke to them of the riches of Christ and told them that these riches were unparalleled in worth. The riches in Christ were unsearchable. They were boundless. The riches in Christ were so great that the depths could not be fathomed. They were unsearchable. Wow! Talk about riches! What earthly wealth can compare to the riches of Christ? If given the choice, what would we rather have?
What are these riches of which Paul speaks? They are the riches of salvation found in Christ, who is the storehouse of all these blessings. Think of that, dear friend. Christ does not merely walk with believers as He did with His disciples during His earthly ministry. Christ has sent forth His Spirit to dwell in them. Christ through His Spirit has taken up His dwelling place in the hearts of His saints. And that means that every blessing Christ has earned for us on the cross is ours, without exception. Believers have received the forgiveness of sins.
That by itself is a precious possession to the sin-weary saint who sees his need to be delivered from sin. But with that comes faith, that is, the knowledge that our sins have been forgiven us. We are confident that our sins are wiped away in the redeeming blood of Jesus Christ. We are righteous and holy in Christ. Ah, more riches! We are declared righteous before God, and Christ has cleansed our hearts. We have received the adoption of children. We belong to Jesus Christ and therefore to God Himself. We are His dear children. We bask in the love and the protection of a Father that has loved us from eternity. He is our God and we are His people. He will not leave us in this life when the going gets tough. He is there for us every step of our lives in leading us on to glory.
Then there is the wealth of heaven that awaits God’s people. In this life we are given the hope of glory. Christ in us has worked a hope for the glory that awaits us in heaven, a land flowing with the milk and honey of God’s blessings. We are given a strong desire and longing to enter into that glory, so that the riches of this present world mean nothing at all in comparison to the riches that await us at God’s side—to bask in pure, unadulterated glory and perfection without the slightest smudge of sin—that will be happiness and joy unspeakable.
And that is what Paul was given to preach. In short, his task was to preach the gospel—the same good news we yet hear today in the church institute through the proper, faithful preaching of God’s Word. The same riches thrill our hearts.
But Paul’s calling included more than merely preaching the gospel. His calling was a ground breaker. He was doing something that was brand new. He was called to perform a task that at first, to the church, seemed radical and even wrong at some points. Paul had been placed by God on the cutting edge of the preaching of the gospel, so to speak. The rest of the apostles preached at first only to Jewish Christians. Paul was sent to carry this blessed gospel of the unsearchable riches of Christ to a people who had never been a people. He had to preach the gospel of grace to those who had been utterly rejected by God in the Old Testament. Imagine being one of those Gentiles to whom Paul now imparted the gospel. Imagine the thrill, that God in His grace had now chosen them too to be a part of His church in this world.
We are talking about believers here, of course. The world of unbelief would not consider what was happening here to be exciting at all. But we who look back across the period of the New Testament can truly be excited about what had begun with the apostle Paul. The gospel has spread throughout this world. What Paul started then has continued. The church became active in her mandate to spread the gospel to all peoples. And woe to that church today that does not see this as her calling. The gospel has been heralded since the beginning of the world. It has been prophesied and sung from the beginning of the ages. Paul was used by God to begin the spread of the gospel. What a privilege was his.
And Paul recognized that, too. Paul’s task fulfilled what it was meant to do—to make all men see the fellowship of the mystery of the church. I want to make a point of that yet before finishing today. All men have come to see what the church is. The mystery in the Old Testament has been revealed. The mystery of the church is no longer a mystery. We live in the end of the ages and the mystery has been solved for centuries already. All nations of men have come to see the beautiful truth concerning Christ’s church. God’s saints are gathered from every nation of this world. It consists of people of every language. These saints have come to share in the riches of Christ.
But the church still today labors to make those who have not seen the beauty of the church to see it. The church institute still sends out men into this world to preach the gospel and to gather the church. In fact, the church still sends men to those who had the gospel in their generations and have lost it. The church is always giving witness to what Paul was first sent to do.
But there awaits a far better time. That time is in the future when our hope of glory is finally fulfilled. We will then be gathered together in heaven and we will see perfectly what has been hid in God from eternity—the church of the old dispensation and of the new, gathered together into one grand and glorious body in heaven, one beautiful church. Then the mystery of God will be fulfilled in all its perfection.
We thank God that the mystery is no longer a mystery to us. Now we look and strive for the final perfection of that church.
Let us pray together.
Our Father and our God in heaven, again we come into Thy presence, for Thou art the great and glorious God of heaven and earth and Thou hast sent forth Thy Son to be the head of the church, the church that Thou hast gathered from the many nations and languages of this world, and we are thankful that we can belong to that wonderful church. We pray that Thou wilt grant to us the grace to know that it is so necessary for us to join ourselves to that church in this world. Father, forgive us of our sins. We pray, go with us in this day. For Jesus’ sake we ask these things, Amen.