Scripture Reading: Acts 11:1-18
Sermon Title: The Revelation of God’s Mystery (part 2)... Ministers of the Double Union
Sermon Text: Ephesians 3:4-7
God’s Ministers of the Mystery (v.4-7)
God’s Purpose of the Mystery (v.6)
I provide this manuscript as a courtesy. I do not follow the document word for word during the message. I also do not write the document with the intent of publication; there may be grammatical errors throughout. Unfortunately, there is not always time to proofread. I choose to use my available time for studying, finding ways to explain the truths of Scripture while keeping a balance of time for visiting and discipleship of people in the church. Thanks for understanding.
Intro: Revelation of the Mystery
It is only by the grace of God we celebrate the Messiah who is of the lineage of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and died with a sign above His head reading, “the king of the Jews”.
Ephesians 3:1-13 is a great passage to help us see a side of being saved which we don’t always think about, and that is God’s grace is for the Jew and Gentile; it is for all men. Had God only provided salvation for the Jews, which is what He did for centuries, we would not be in this room today.
Let’s read the passage together.
1For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— 2if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you; 3that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. 4By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; 6to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, 7of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power. 8To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, 9and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; 10so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. 11This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him. 13Therefore I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are your glory. (Ephesians 3:1-13)
We are in the second message of our series looking at this passage. The main teaching of this series of messages is this: Worship God who reveals His wisdom through the riches of Christ. God’s wisdom is revealed in the mystery.
Three times the Apostle Paul references the mystery in this passage. The mystery is the central reason why Paul wrote the letter to the Ephesians. Paul refers to the mystery at the beginning, middle (here), and once more at the end of the letter.
It is important to approach the word mystery in the same way the original audience understood the term.
When we think of a mystery, we think of something that we may never know or understand. Once we understand, we no longer think of something as being a mystery. In other words, a mystery is only a mystery as long as we don’t know the answer. We try to solve mysteries, and once they are solved, they are no longer a mystery as far as we are concerned.
When Paul uses the word, he calls it a mystery even though it is solved and the information is made known. Anything that is concealed from some, but made known to others is a mystery. In this case, for generations, nobody knew Gentiles were going to become members of the household of God. Paul refers to the salvation of the Gentiles as a mystery because previous generations did not know.
Last week, we looked at the Revelation of the Mystery (v.1-3). There are three aspects of the revelation which we focused on. They are:
- The God of Mystery: God is sovereign over spiritual truth. He determines who will and who will not understand spiritual truth. If God does not reveal the mystery, a person will not understand.
- Revealing the Mystery: God chose to reveal to the saints of the first century the mystery which is, “that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel (Eph. 3:6).” This revelation is a remarkable movement of God. It is so radical that the early church fathers didn’t know what to do. People who were called unclean are now clean. People who were forbidden from fellowship and the temple are now to be embraced and welcomed. Acts 10-11 shows God gave Simon Peter a vision in order for him to evangelize the Gentiles.
- Steward of the Mystery: Apostle Paul was given a stewardship of God’s grace. Paul is a servant of God to reveal the mystery. He was chosen as the Apostle to the Gentiles and this privilege and responsibility completely overtook his life.
As I mentioned, the main teaching of this series of messages is: Worship God who reveals His wisdom through the riches of Christ.
This week, our focus is on verses 4-7. The God-centeredness of this passage is meant to inspire worship. God’s sovereign control is written all over this passage. It speaks of God’s grace, God’s mystery, God’s plan, God’s power, God’s wisdom, and God’s Son. Reading this brings us to worship God as He reveals to us His glorious plan of saving us in Christ Jesus our Lord.
We will approach the text from two perspectives. The first perspective is to look at God’s sovereign control over His ministers of the mystery.
God’s Ministers of the Mystery (v.4-7)
God is imposing His will to save people and calls apostles and prophets for His purpose. These are not people accomplishing their own agenda. Instead, God is using them to accomplish His purposes.
In our Scripture reading, Peter asked, who was I that I could stand in God’s way (Acts 11:17)? If God wants the Gentiles to be saved there is no way for Peter, or the church leaders in Jerusalem, to stand in the way. God is in complete control. Verses 4-7 reveal seven ways in which the ministers of the mystery are God’s ministers under His sovereign control.
1 - Those who minister the mystery do so according to God’s providence.
Paul begins the paragraph saying that he is a prisoner of Christ Jesus. Paul fully recognizes that it is because of God he is in prison. Although he is arrested by the commander of the Roman cohort (Acts 21:31), and he is a prisoner under the authority of Nero, Paul considers himself a prisoner of Christ Jesus.
Paul saw all the circumstances around him as God working out His purposes and plans. There is no such thing as bad luck for Paul. There is no such thing as a problem with the government arresting Paul unfairly. Paul knows his life is in God’s hands. He is a prisoner of the Roman government, but he is a prisoner of Christ Jesus. All of Paul’s shipwrecks, beatings, and imprisonments come from the hand of God.
2 - Those who minister the mystery do so according to God’s timing.
Throughout created history we witness how God reveals truth according to His timing. Theologians refer to this as progressive revelation. God progressively reveals what He wants us to know in the time He chooses. In this passage, we see God reveals in Paul’s generation what was previously hidden from generations beforehand.
Hebrews tells us God spoke to the prophets in many portions (Hebrews 1:1). God reveals truth in portions, which is piece by piece. Many things are hinted at in the Old Testament, such as justification by grace alone or the deity of the Messiah, but they were not fully understood until the first century.
Jesus told His disciples, “For truly I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” (Matthew 13:17). God didn’t hide the truth because the men were unworthy, Jesus said they were righteous men. God hid the truth because that was His plan.
We are able to read the messianic psalms, such as Psalm 22 and 110, and know they refer to Christ. We can read Isaiah 53 and know it is about the sufferings of Jesus. That is because we live in an age God revealed the mystery.
As we look at Revelation prophecy in Daniel or Revelation, we can guess what is taking place, but until God opens our eyes, it will remain a mystery.
What we minister is according to the timing of God’s revelation.
3 - Those who minister the mystery do so according to God’s standard of holiness.
Paul says the message is now revealed being to God’s holy apostles and prophets.
God requires holiness. He always has and He always will. In the days of the priesthood, God required holiness in temple rituals. God still requires holiness in our lives.
Those who say, “thus says the Lord” should deliver the message in a way which is honoring and fitting of who they represent. We wouldn’t wear dirty jeans to deliver a message from a king, neither should we have a dirty heart when delivering spiritual truth from a holy God.
We see all the time that the world mocks the moral failings of people in ministry. They will say, “how can they speak the truth of God when they live as they do?” Even the world expects God’s messengers to be holy.
4 - Those who minister the mystery do so according to God’s job description.
In ages past, God had many different jobs for people. People serve God as He desires, not according to their own needs. Noah didn’t set out to be a boat builder but he ended up building an Ark. David was a shepherd boy who God changed into being a mighty warrior to fight battles and build a Kingdom. Paul was happy to be a Pharisee tentmaker until God changed him into being an apostle and missionary.
We read God’s word and see how God has completely changed the roles of people who serve Him. There is a stark contrast between the Old Testament servants of God and the New Testament.
In the church age, the job description for God’s servants has changed. No longer are Levites serving as priests. There are not judges overseeing whether God’s people abide by the Law.
God created completely new positions for the building of the church. God is now using apostles, preachers, shepherds, teachers, and deacons instead of priests, judges, and kings. No longer do we see an army of God’s warriors conquering kingdoms, but now we see apostles and missionaries planting churches to build a Kingdom for God.
Think of the contrast this might have been for the early church fathers.
5 - Those who minister the mystery do so according to God’s Spirit.
In the past, the Holy Spirit came upon specific people as an anointing. In the church age, the Spirit of God indwells every believer as prophesied by Joel (2:28). With the pouring out of God’s Spirit, God became intimately involved with His people. He leads and guides people into truth.
The reason the early church fathers were able to adapt and change from the Old Testament structure and practices is because of the indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit. The mystery is revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is truly a helper. Imagine how extremely helpful to the Apostle Paul to have the Counselor and Comforter minister to him in prison. When Paul preached, God’s Holy Spirit convicted people of sin and confirmed in their heart the truth.
Last week we looked at 1 Corinthians chapter two. In that passage it says:
Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God (1 Corinthians 2:12)
Our hope comes from the love of God poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:1-5). God wants us to know with certainty the things He freely has given to us. God desires for us to give Him the glory for His grace and goodness. His Holy Spirit accompanies those who minister the mysteries of God so the hearers may rejoice in knowing they have a loving and good Father in Heaven.
6 - Those who minister the mystery do so according to God’s gift of grace
In verse 2, Paul says the revelation of the mystery is made known to him because of God’s grace. In verse 7, Paul says he is a minister according to the gift of God’s grace. God’s Holy Spirit reveals truth and God’s Holy Spirit empowers the ministry of the truth.
We often think of salvation as a gift of grace, but we seldom think of ministry as a gift of grace. Ministry does not belong to man. We may not demand to be able to preach the gospel. God is not obligated to allow any person to minister. Christianity is God’s truth. Salvation in Jesus Christ belongs to God. God gave His Son.
Therefore, because it is God’s truth and God’s salvation, anybody who ministers does so only because God is good and He allows ministry because of His grace. No person may lay claim to the truths found in Scripture.
Whenever we speak forth about the goodness of God found in the salvation which comes from Jesus Christ we should speak humbly knowing our ability to speak is only because of God’s grace.
God reveals truth to us for a purpose. Yes, He wants us to worship Him. But, God also desires for us to tell others about His goodness. He gives us the ministry of speaking about salvation as a gift of His grace. We can be thankful for God’s kindness and goodness and God is not a tyrant dictator and doesn’t punish us for not fulfilling our obligation to speak forth about His Son.
Whenever we are given opportunity to share, let’s be sure to thank God for such a privileged gift of His grace.
7 - Those who minister the mystery do so according to working of God’s power
Paul says the ministry of grace is given to him according to the working of God’s power (v.7).
In some ways we might read this and say, “isn’t everything happening according to God’s power? God’s power raises up nations and brings them to ruin. God’s power is keeping the Universe in place by the means of gravity and neutron attraction.
We know nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37) and no purpose of God’s may be thwarted (Job 42:2). So, in one sense, of course those who minister do so according to the working of God’s power. Everything is being done according to the working of God’s power. We know this and, of course, Paul knows this.
What is helpful is to see how Paul uses this phrase in his letters. He frequently speaks of the power of God and, most often, Paul associates the power of God with the power of salvation. The Gospel is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16). Paul’s preaching is not done in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:4-5).
There is a specificity to the working of God’s power when it comes to salvation. We need to understand this when we hear the word being preached and the gospel going forth. Underneath the words spoken is a working of God’s power to save. What saves people is God’s salvation power. This truth occurs frequently enough in Scripture that we should have a reverence for God working in this way.
Paul speaks specifically about the working of God’s power because he desires for the Ephesians to know this power. Remember Paul’s prayer? His third request is, “… that the eyes of their heart be enlightened, so that they will know what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.”
In these verses, Paul is telling them that his ministry of the gospel to them is, in fact, the working of God’s power in their favor.
Summary of this point …
It seems a little tedious to point out each of these ways God is working to minister the mystery spoken of in these verses. There is a reason for pointing each of these ways out and speaking about each one.
What Paul is communicating to the Ephesians by emphasizing the work of God in the ministry of the mystery is that they need to have full confidence in their salvation. These verses are an answer to the prayer he has for them.
There should be no reason for them to doubt that the salvation they are experiencing is a complete work of God. Their salvation is not a ministry of man, but a ministry of God.
If, for instance, Jewish influence is causing them to doubt they are saved, it is because the Jewish voices don’t have insight into the work of God. The Jews who are saying Gentiles may not be saved don’t see how God is working.
The ministers of the Gospel in Ephesus are God’s ministers under God’s sovereign control. They are not man’s ministers. The church in Ephesus is established by God. God providentially sends His servants, equips them with His Holy Spirit, sanctifies them in holiness, gives them the grace to preach, and works His power for the sake of the Ephesian Gentiles.
The Ephesians need to see how God mightily is works in their favor for their good. If they could have eyes to see this work of God, they will have hope in their glorious inheritance. It is as if Paul is saying, “Dear Ephesians, how I desire to see how mightily God is working to save you. He chose this time of all times to start bringing in Gentiles into the household of God. God appoints apostles and prophets for His purpose. God chose me, Paul, as His servant and equipped me to preach with power. God is working all things for your good. Rejoice in Your great God who loves you and is directing the entire universe in your favor because He loves you. How might you know God loves you? Because God has revealed a mystery, and that mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”
This is our next point, the purpose of God’s mystery.
God’s Purpose of the Mystery (v.6)
Verse six is the aim of the letter to the Ephesians. Paul wants the Ephesians to know the promises of Abraham, the prophecy of Joel and Isaiah, the Messiah who sits perpetually upon King David’s throne, the anointing of God’s Spirit, all which belonged to the Jews also now belongs to them. There are no second class citizens in God’s kingdom.
The distinction between Jew and Greek is a big problem in the early church. It is difficult for Jews to understand how Gentiles may be saved. Paul wrote to the Romans, Galatians and Colossians and said:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian or Scythian, slave nor free man, neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. For there is no partiality with God. (Romans 2:11; Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11).
God always intended good for ALL men
We might ask, as Paul rhetorically asks in his letter to the Romans, “Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision?” His answer is they have a great advantage. They Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. They were God’s servants to preserve the Scriptures. The Israelites were God’s servants as an example of holiness, and to demonstrate His power. The Israelites were not called for their own sake, but so God could use them for good.
But, the good God intends is not only for the sake of the Israelites, but for all men. All nations are blessed with the blessings of Abraham. Every tribe and every tongue. God desires for all men, not just one kind of man, to come to the knowledge of the truth. God so loved the world, as Jesus told Nicodemus, not just the Israelites.
Union with Jews
To illustrate his point, Paul repeats the use of the Greek prefix “syn” to help the Ephesians understand.
He first used this prefix in chapter two. The prefix means “together”. In chapter two, verses 5 and 6, Paul combines the prefix with the words alive, risen, and seated. In the Greek it is one word:
together-alive; together-risen, and together-seated
All of these are with Christ, so in English, we are: “made alive together with Christ, raised up together with Christ, and seated together with Christ.”
Paul now takes the same Greek prefix, “syn”, to show the union of the Gentiles with the Jews.
together-heirs; together-members, and together-partakers
In English, the NASB translates it as fellow heirs and so forth. The use of the same prefix to speak of the union with Christ and the union with the Jews would not be lost on the Ephesians.
In essence, Paul is showing the Ephesians that there is a double union. We are all in union with Christ and we are all in union with one another.
This is not to say God doesn’t have specific roles. There are roles for husband and wife and for elder and member. What this does teach is that with regards to the hope of our calling and our glorious inheritance, there is no distinction. There is not one salvation for the Jews and another salvation for the Gentiles. There is not one salvation for the rich and another for the poor, nor is the one salvation for men, and another for women. We are fellow heirs, fellow members, and fellow partakers of the promises in Christ Jesus.
Having a different salvation for some does not glorify Christ. Our union as believers glorifies the riches of Jesus Christ. The glories of Christ are plenty for all. They are surpassingly great. Jesus is able to save everyone to the uttermost.
Assurance in God’s work
God’s hand all over our salvation so we may have assurance in His work. God works the same way in our lives to bring us the truth. God empowers the word through His Holy Spirit. God providentially brings together events and circumstances for the exaltation of Jesus Christ.
Our salvation takes place because God is behind the timing and everything is being done according to His wisdom, goodness and purity.
Unity in God’s Kingdom
God is aiming for unity in His kingdom and we need to do the same. This is Jesus’ prayer in John 17 (John 17:21), that we be as one as the Trinity is One. We studied the importance of unity as we studied Philippians together during ABF.
Unity is very important to God and it needs to be important to us. As members of the body together, let us strive together for unity. We need to regard one another as being made alive together with Christ, risen together with Christ, and seated together with Christ in the heavenly places. We have a shared experience of being joined together in union with Jesus Christ.
We need to keep in mind that we are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ. We share in all things together. We are all bought with the same blood.
Our salvation is a work of God, not men. God is working to bring us together for His glory. Praise be to God that He desires all men to come to a knowledge of the truth, not just Jews, but Gentiles as well. Worship God for His wisdom and because of the riches of Christ’s salvation.