This sermon is number 13 in a series of 36
Ephesians - Part 13
"The Revelation Of The Mystery"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2000 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
We're turning to Ephesians chapter 2. We are looking at Ephesians chapter 3 this evening, but we've a few verses to deal with in the end of chapter 2 that we ran out of time last week - and you're saying: 'Well, you shouldn't, you've enough time given to you every week' - but there we go! It may happen again tonight, but we'll just see how far we get. Ephesians chapter 2, and we got down (if my memory serves me right) to verse 19. So we're going to read from verse 20 and then right through into chapter 3 and through to verse 13. That's going to be the section of Ephesians that we're going to concentrate on this evening. So we'll read verse 19 just to get the flow of the sentence: "Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God".
We saw that we are now part of the family of God, didn't we? We're now part of the city of God. Verse 20: "And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord". There are the three figures, illustrations, that Paul gives to us of the church of Jesus Christ: a new city, a new family, and now a new temple. "In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit. For this cause" - following on - "I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, if ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words" - and you can read about that, as we did, in chapter 1 and verses 9 to 13.
He's already talked about this mystery, but in this passage he's going into it in more detail: "Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) 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; That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel: Whereof I was made a minister", or a servant, "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: To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord: In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him. Wherefore I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory".
If you look at verses 20 to 22 of chapter 2, we began last week to look at the fact that - yes - the church of Jesus Christ is a new city, the church of Jesus Christ is a new family, but it is also the new temple of God. At the very end of our study we alluded to the fact that in 1 Peter we read that Peter says that the church of Jesus Christ is a new building. It is a building made up of lively stones. That means it's not a building of bricks and mortar, but it's a building made up of individual people, human beings - lively, or living, stones. Peter goes on to say that those living stones are built upon a foundation stone, who is the Living Stone of all stones - the Lord Jesus Christ.
Do you remember we ended with that illustration? We talked about when Solomon built his temple on Mount Moriah - that there was something peculiar about it. There was something special, because each stone within that temple building went up without the sound and noise of a hammer or a workman. Why? Because each stone was carried up to that building already made, already fit to be put into that temple and to be part of the building of God. The workman would make that stone in his workshop or at home, and he would bring it, already fit to be put and planted upon the foundation of the Lord Jesus Christ. All those stones in Solomon's temple were being cemented together, one by one, and Peter is saying: 'Can you see the analogy?'. The Holy Ghost of God comes and He begins to work through conviction in the heart and the life of a man or a woman, and he's starting to chip away their moorings to planet earth. He starts to chip away from the nature of the sin that is the quarry that they are found in and grounded and buried in. Bit by bit, the Holy Ghost is bringing that person out of the slave market of sin, and putting them into the redemption ground by the blood of Christ. They are not fitted into the temple of God's church until they are fit.
That's why you ought not to be a member of a church unless you're saved. Each stone was ready before it was fitted in. You will notice that today no one can hear the Gospel effectually, no one can believe unless God Himself through the Holy Ghost of God is working with a man, talking to the man. He alone can lift that man out of the dire depths of sin, and attach that man into the church of Jesus Christ. It cannot be done with the hands of men! If we could realise this in our evangelism, in the preaching of the Gospel, in the operation at large of the church of Jesus Christ: that it cannot be done by our hands. It cannot be done by our effort. The word of God says through the prophet: 'It's not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord'. We need, more than ever, for God to do a work. But isn't this beautiful? This is God's new thing. Paul calls it God's new poem, God's new masterpiece - the church of Jesus Christ. No wonder the poet could say:
'View the vast building, see it rise!
The work how great, the plan how wise.
Nor can that faith be overthrown,
That rests upon the Living Stone'.
Now, Paul gives us, at the end of this chapter, three more illustrations about three elements upon which the church of Jesus Christ is founded and is resting upon. Look at the verses, 20 to 22. He talks, first of all, about 'the foundation'. Secondly, he talks about 'the cornerstone', and then thirdly, the part of the building which is 'the building blocks' - we who put the building together. Now, let's look at the first: the foundation that we find in verse 20. 'And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and the prophets'. Now, look at the order of that sentence. The apostles, first. The prophets, second. Now that makes it quite obvious that the prophets that are being talked about in this verse are New Testament prophets. Otherwise it would say 'the prophets and the apostles', inferring that it was the Old Testament prophets that came before the New Testament apostles. But no, he says 'the apostles and then the prophets', inferring and telling us that the prophets he is talking about are the prophets that you find in the book of Acts; the prophets that preached the word of God, the prophets who God spoke through before they had a written canon of the word of God in scripture. It doesn't mean, here, that these apostles and prophets are the foundation of the church of Jesus Christ. You might say, 'Well, David that's what it says - look at the verse: built upon the foundation of the apostles and the prophets'. Well, turn with me a moment, very quickly, to 1 Corinthians 3. First Corinthians 3 and verse 11 - now listen very carefully, we must interpret the word of God by the word of God. First Corinthians 3 verse 11, what does Paul say? "For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ".
But this verse says that the foundation is the apostles and the prophets! But what Paul is saying here is not literally that the apostles, the literal twelve apostles, and the prophets of the New Testament were the foundation, but he is alluding and inferring that what came out of the apostles mouths - or as the New Testament teaches, the apostles doctrine and the prophet's preaching and teaching. In other words, the word of the living God is the foundation on which we build - the teaching about the Person, and the work, the Deity, the humanity, the effectual death, and atoning blood of Christ! That is the foundation! In other words, he's saying the same thing. He says in Corinthians that 'Christ is the only foundation. No man can lay another foundation', and he's saying in Ephesians the teaching of who Christ is - the person, the attributes, the effectual work and the atonement that is efficacious - that is all that we rest upon! Isn't it? Now, do you see what he's saying?
But then he goes on and he says 'there is the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone'. Now, there's the second illustration: Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone. Now, for hundreds of years in the ancient world if you were reading that you would know right away what it meant, because the cornerstone was a description that had a prophetic meaning. For the Jew, the cornerstone meant the Messiah. Turn to Isaiah 28 for a moment - Isaiah 28 and verse 16 - now, I want you to keep your finger in this verse. God is speaking here through Isaiah and He says: 'Therefore thus saith the Lord God. Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone' - now look at this phrase - 'a tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste'. Now, most scholars, as they look at that verse and they look at Ephesians would see in the description 'the chief cornerstone', a prophetic description of the Messiah of Israel - the Christ of God. If you were to use that description in those days and talk about a cornerstone, you would be talking about the foundation of a building, which would bring stability to the whole form. Do you understand? So immediately when you said 'cornerstone' to a Jew he thought about stability; say 'cornerstone', he thought about the structure, how it was solid, how it was grounded, how it could not be moved. Indeed we're told that in the Jerusalem temple, the foundation stones, the greatest of the foundation stones was 29 feet in length. That's basically the size of a train carriage! And this great cornerstone was planted somewhere in the building and the whole building was fitted and framed around it, and that stone brought stability to it all!
Now, the scholars debate over what the cornerstone really was in practical terms. There are three interpretations and each one, no matter what one you take, speaks of Christ. There is the foundation stone - the cornerstone - the stone that we would imagine you set in the middle of the foundations, and the whole building is fitted and framed there. We can see, in that picture, a picture of our blessed Lord - that He is the foundation of the church of Jesus Christ. Like the wise man and the foolish man, unless we know that we are built upon the Rock, we will sink. If the foundation of the church of Jesus Christ (whether it be the literal person of Jesus Christ, or the teachings of the apostles and the prophets) be corroded or start to be chipped away at by liberal scholars, what will happen is the building begins to topple and eventually will crumble.
The second interpretation is that of an arch in a doorway. You know a stone arch, and some scholars think that the capstone was that stone that was in the middle of the top of the arch that held it all together - and ultimately, figuratively, held the whole building as far as you could see with the naked eye. It spoke of pre-eminence. Isn't He the pre-eminent one? Isn't He the name that is above every name? Isn't He the only name in the church that should be exalted and praised, and worshipped and adored, and magnified and served?
Then there is the idea of another capstone, which, if you've been to Egypt and you see the Pyramids, you'll notice that at most of the top of the Pyramids the bricks are actually chipped away round the peak. That is because that whole structure of the Pyramid, 3-D triangle, was there and was covered, probably in lime, and at the top there was a capstone - possibly coated in gold. A capstone at the very top! Now I happen to believe that the cornerstone here is what we would understand as the foundations - but no matter what it is, all of it speaks of Christ! What Paul is getting across here is the whole architectural unity, symmetry and structure of this building of the church that is built upon Christ must be determined by the foundation stone. That means the lean of the building, the structure of the walls, the shape of the roof, the lays of the walls, the dimensions of the whole structure were as a result of where the chief cornerstone was, and what a good cornerstone it happened to be. All the other stones had to adjust to the shape of the chief cornerstone.
Look at Isaiah again - 28:16 - and that phrase that I wanted you to note: 'a tried stone'. F.F. Bruce, the Biblical scholar, believes that that can be translated: 'a tested stone'. In other words, a stone of testing, a stone that measures how good a building it really is. The way to measure the church of Jesus Christ is Jesus Christ Himself. He is the one who should set our standards. He is the example that we ought to follow. It is His teaching, it is His walk, it is His word, it is His Gospel, it is His philosophy of life, it is His worldview that we as believers ought to adopt. He ought to set the trend in His own church because He is the cornerstone - the stone of testing. Now, what shape are we in? Do we measure up? Do we fall into line? Verse 21 and 22, as we know from the Old Testament just as in the wilderness the Jews had the tent of God - the tabernacle. And you remember that God's presence came and filled the tabernacle. You remember we were thinking about it around the Lord's Table yesterday morning, that when the temple of Solomon was built no-one could do anything. The priest couldn't even serve -why? Because the glory of God - the Shekinah glory - came down and He filled the whole temple.
Chapter 1, in the last verse, describes the Lord Jesus Christ to be the head of the church - the gift of God given to the church, and He's described as this: 'the one who fills all in all'. Do you see the picture? 'In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord', verse 22, 'In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit'. We are God's habitation! Now, let's grasp this! We, as we sit together, are the building, the place, the location upon the map where God lives. No longer does He sit or hover upon the mercy seat. No longer is He through the veil in the temple. No longer - He is in your heart, and He's in mine!
'The soul wherein God dwells,
What church could holier be?
Becomes a walking tent
Of heavenly majesty'.
So Paul goes on and he goes into more detail and, in chapter 3 and verses 1 to 13, he begins to expound the mystery again. This book of Ephesians has been well called by some: 'The Mystery of the Church of Jesus Christ'. It speaks primarily about this great thing, this new thing that God has done. The first thing he says in verses 1 to 13, on your sheet, is this - of the revelation of the mystery, he says first of all: what the mystery was made known to him individually, Paul - what God had showed him, verses 1 to 6. What he has described in chapter 2 and before it in chapter 1, he describes as the 'mystery' he begins to expound.
Now, we're not talking about Agatha Christie or Sherlock Holmes or Inspector Poirot - that is the understanding that we have of 'mystery' today in our English language. But the word of God was written in Greek - the New Testament at least. Some of you ought to realise that, that it wasn't written in English, nor was it written in Jacobean English. It was written in Greek. The word, 'mystery' in Greek is 'mysterion'. It simply means something - and we've learnt this before - that is beyond natural knowledge, something that man has not had revealed to him, and something that is now in the New Testament being opened to us by divine revelation through the Holy Spirit of the living God. In Colossians 1 and verse 26 we read this: 'Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints'. Have you got it? This is a truth that has never been known before, it's a secret that is now being made open. It is the open secret of God.
You've heard of Napoleon Bonaparte, haven't you? He's famous for being a 'wannabe' conqueror of Europe. That is his claim to fame. But in July 1798 he began to occupy Egypt and in the next 3 years, just before he was ousted and pushed out of Egypt, his other passion made him conquer. His other passion was archaeology. One of his French comrades, a countryman, found what is called 'The Rosetta Stone'. You've maybe heard about it. From the Rosetta Stone they were able to look at an alphabet, the Egyptian alphabet [in] hieroglyphics, and it gave them the key to understanding what each letter in the hieroglyphic alphabet meant and correlated to in the English language and, indeed, any other Latin language. That stone became the key to understanding not simply a language but a whole Egyptian world and empire that had been closed to humanity before, and the door was being opened for modern Egyptian studies. Do you get what I'm saying?
This is like Paul - a mystery is being revealed to him now that was secret for all time. It had never been opened - it was there, yes, in the mind of God; it was there in His eternal counsels. He was well determined and prepared to put it into action when the fullness of time was come, but He had not revealed to men what it was. Paul the apostle is coming and he stumbles in the intellect of God, revealed to him, of God's great poem - God's masterpiece, God's new work, God's new man, God's new creation: the church of Jesus Christ. All of a sudden, when we stumble upon it in the New Testament, we find that it makes sense of the Old Testament. We find it makes sense of what the Lord Jesus was talking about and alluding to within the four Gospels. We find that it makes sense about what the apostles were saying and doing, and the foundation that they were laying in the Acts of the Apostles. We find that it examines and exemplifies everything that we have in all of the Epistles. It is the key to understanding the word of God. It is the mystery of the church of Jesus Christ. Look at chapter 2 and verse 10. We'll not read it but look at it - he is alluding to that mystery there. He alludes to it in verse 15 of chapter 2 . He's alluded to it already in the verses we've looked at in chapter 2, verses 19 to 22. Now in chapter 3 it is dominating his thoughts and his feelings, his intellect and his will. He wants these Ephesian Christians to realise that he is fully informed about the matter from God.
So he begins in verse 1: 'For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles' - and then he stops. Now, I want you to see this because he doesn't continue his train of thought until verse 14. He's starting to pray if you like. He says: 'For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles' - verse 14, and then he says - 'For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ'. So it's as if he begins to talk in this way about how he is suffering for them and then, in parenthesis, he stops and tells them a little bit about why he is suffering, and then in verse 14 he begins to start praying for them again.
Now, look at these verses with me because Paul begins to reveal the great secret of God, never revealed in all eternity. But only in this wonderful dispensation, this age and economy and distribution, administration of God, has it ever been revealed or will be revealed. It seems, from the New Testament, that Paul was especially chosen of God to reveal this to the Gentiles. He was the one that was chosen. That's why he's so often called the 'apostle of the mystery', but that doesn't mean that he was the only one that had this revealed to him. For if you look at verse 5: 'Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy' - plural - 'apostles and' - plural - 'prophets by the Spirit of the living God'. Indeed, the Lord Jesus Christ revealed it to His own disciples when He was upon the earth. Turn with me to John chapter 10 - John chapter 10 and, first of all, verse 4: 'And when he putteth forth his own sheep', Jesus says, 'he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice', verse 16, 'And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd'.
It's clear, isn't it? You see, you couldn't be a Jew, or you couldn't be saved, technically, if you weren't a Jew. You couldn't be of the household of God. You were a foreigner to the commonwealth of Israel and all the blessings and all of the promises. But even here to the disciples, to the twelve, God in flesh is revealing the plan of God, and the counsel of the divine Trinity in heaven, of all time: that He wants people from every tribe, every tongue, every nation, every background, to be in the church of God's building. Isn't it wonderful? He revealed it to the apostles and to the prophets. You remember that Peter had that vision in the Acts of the Apostles - that sheet let down from heaven displaying the wonderful mystery: that all nations would come to Christ and come to God in Christ. In fact, the revelation of the body even seems to have been given Paul at the very moment of his conversion. What do I mean? What happened when he saw that light on the road to Damascus and he fell before it? The Lord Jesus Christ, what did He say? 'Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?' Why did He say that? Because if you hurt the head, you hurt the whole body. Although this mystery of the church of Jesus Christ - the new man, the third race if you would like to call it, of a unity between Jews and Gentiles - was revealed to all the twelve apostles and the prophets of the New Testament, it seems that Paul alone had revealed to him this picture of a body that we find outlined more in the book of Corinthians.
He says in verse 1 that he was a prisoner: 'Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles'. Now, in verse 1 he calls himself a prisoner. In verse 7 - look at it - he calls it, the AV says 'a minister', but it would be better translated 'a servant', because a minister is not someone that wears fancy garments or is a pastor or anything like that. That word in the New Testament simply means 'a servant', 'a servant of God'. So in verse 1 he calls himself 'a prisoner', and in verse 7 he calls himself 'a servant'. Now, listen to verse 1 in the Amplified New Testament - listen: 'For this reason, because I preach that you are thus builded together, I Paul am a prisoner of Jesus Christ for the sake and on behalf of you Gentiles'. Do you get what he's saying? 'The reason why I am here in prison is because I have been preaching, in the streets and in the synagogues and all around the countryside, this mystery that the Jew and the Gentile can be united together in Christ'. Listen to another paraphrase of it: 'I am here in prison for the preaching that you Gentiles are part of God's house'.
Now think about that! This is the earthly leader of Jewish orthodoxy teaching that the Jew and the Gentile can be united together in Christ. This is the one who was rounding up people to be killed when Christ appeared to him. This is the one who stood holding the coat of the one who was stoning Stephen, and he is in prison for preaching the same message! You see, that's what Christ can do in your life, and only the Holy Ghost can do that. My friend, look at this please, for this is absolutely tremendous - because Paul here, we see, has a theology of suffering. You see there's a whole lot of - I'd better watch what I say - but drivel taught from pulpits: that if you're walking with God you will know health, and you will know wealth, and you will know the sun shining upon your footsteps everywhere you go. But Paul is in prison here. Was he disobedient? Was he living in sin? Had he a problem with his mind or was there something going wrong in his heart - a motive - or was there pride? Or was there something that was stopping God letting him out of prison? Paul had a theology of suffering, and here's how I know it: he says not 'I am a prisoner of Rome' but he was; he doesn't say 'I am a prisoner of these bars' or 'this house that I am under house arrest within'. Listen - look at it: 'I am a prisoner of Jesus Christ!'
Now, I believe this: that Jesus Christ had him in prison. I believe that! I believe this was in the purposes of God. I believe it! I'll tell you why I believe it: because God ordains these things for his children because there is a theology of suffering. He counted it all joy, it says, to be reckoned in God's will and to be suffering with him. If you want to know more about that you can go to the book of Revelation, and you find tribulation saints being butchered and murdered by the spirit of antichrist. And you see, in Heaven, them coming to God and saying: 'When are You going to avenge our blood?' What does He say? 'The number's not up yet. There's still more to die'. That means He had a number, and that means there were those who were ordained to martyr. Paul is here in the depths and in the bowels of a prison, and he is resigned to the fact that Jesus Christ has him where he is for a purpose - and how could He not? We are standing here this evening with the epistle to the Ephesians in our hands. Was that not in God's will, that he should be in prison to write a book such as this? Of course it is!
What strikes me is this: if Paul had toned it down a little and succumbed a little to the Jewish nationalism of the day, he could have got out. I suspect that if a Christian was locked up today for their witness, we'd all be running and saying: 'Look, tone it down, lie low for a couple of weeks and just hope that you'll get out'. Did he? No - because he wasn't a prisoner of Rome; he wasn't looking at the Roman establishment and saying, 'They've got me' - 'Christ has got me! And Christ can have me for I am sold to the Gospel. I have died to Him, and if death it may be, then let it come!'
You remember how in the defence of the Gospel, he stood at the temple in the book of Acts. There on those stairs in Jerusalem - what happened was the whole crowd and rabble came round him, and he was announcing that God the Lord had commanded him to go to the Gentiles, to preach the Gospel that the Jew and the Gentile could be reconciled to God and reconciled to one another. It says that they 'boiled up in ire and in anger' - the Jewish hearers - and they stared and said this: 'Away with such a fellow from the earth; it is not fit for him to live'. That Gospel has him where he is now. I wonder do you ever think how much you owe to the apostle Paul, for if he hadn't done it, I doubt if anyone would have done it. He was God's instrument to getting you the Gospel here in the 21st century in Northern Ireland. Oh, how we should be thankful to him - but not primarily to him, but for the Holy Ghost that arrested him there on the road to Damascus, to the one who says within His word: 'He is a chosen vessel unto me to bear my name unto the Gentiles'. Hallelujah! What a God we have - that way back there on the road to Damascus He was thinking of me, over here, 2000 years away, He was thinking of me!
We've got to go on. There's so many that we could be grateful to. There are martyrs, there are the Reformers, there are the Puritans, there are modern day people who are trying to keep and teach the Gospel and keep it pure of all nationalism, of all petty arguments, of all sorts of modern day Pharisaism that we find even in our own land at this time. We are needing - now, today in our contemporary society - to ask ourselves the question: are we faithful, no matter the cost? Are we willing to keep the Gospel pure? Are we willing to proclaim the Gospel no matter what the cost is to us, our families, our name and our livelihood?
But this is the second thing - because not only had he a theology of suffering, but he had a theology of grace. He said that he had grace to minister - verse 2: 'If ye have heard of the dispensation' - or the administration - 'of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward'. In other words: 'I've been committed this thing to commit to you. I've been given this. I have become a steward of this Gospel of grace'. He is inferring throughout the passage that he has actually been given grace from God to do this ministry. God has not saved him by grace and then said: 'Now, you push on there and get that job done; and if you fail - well - I'll raise up somebody else to do the job for Me'. He sends him out with the same grace that He saves him with, to do the job that He had ordained for him. There is a theology of grace, and Paul sees himself, in this passage, as the manager of God's grace to the Gentiles. He was distributing - that's what the word, 'dispensation', means: an administration, a stewardship - he was sending out, and handing out, the economy of God.
Now listen - that grace is still with us today, and the church of Jesus Christ is a body. There is nowhere within the New Testament scriptures that teaches a 'one man ministry', or that the oversight or the elders carry the can for everybody, and all the rest just turn up on a Sunday to listen to the sermon - nowhere! Now, I want to suggest to you that that is the greatest waste of God's grace that I have ever heard of, isn't it? For the same grace that is given to me to be the pastor of the Iron Hall, to the oversight and the deacons, is given to you to be a member of the body because we're all the same. We're all the same! The jobs and the roles might be different but we've the same God, we're in the same body - Christ. I can't do what you can do - you can't do what I can do, but we all have been given that administration, that dispensation of grace, the ability to go out and do what God has ordained for you and I to do.
Oh, there's so much we could go into here, for God had chosen the Jews - hadn't He? - from Genesis 12 when He spoke to Abraham and made him a Jew (he was a Gentile before, but He made him a Jew). Then right through to Malachi chapter 4 at the end of the Old Testament - what God did through the Jews, how He worked with them, how He talked to them, how He tried to redeem them and deliver them from every ill that they brought themselves into. Then, at the end, they rejected their own Messiah and, as a result, God temporarily has set them aside - today God deals with everybody. It's an administration of all the nations. It's a dispensation of grace whereby - and look at what Paul is saying in verse 6 - 'whereby every Gentile that trusts in Christ can be a fellowheir with the Jew, can be of the same body as the Jew, can be a partaker of the promises of Christ, the Messiah, by the Gospel'. You can be - we can be - heirs together, members together. That word in the Greek, 'members together', is a word that Paul just makes up out of his head, because there is nothing to describe the truth that he is saying. The mystery - it's never been heard of, so there's not even a word to describe it, that Gentiles and the Jews can be united together on the same footing as one another. We can be fellow partakers in God.
Let's look at our second point. For we have not just the mystery made known to Paul, but there's the mystery made known to the world, and that ought to be known to the world in verses 7 to 13. Paul again, like I've just said, bends the language and makes up his own word to describe, in the Greek, how he feels before God: 'Whereof I was made a minister' - or a servant - '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'. Now that, in the original language, is a hybrid word. It's an odd word, because he takes the Greek word 'least' or 'smaller', and he adds an ending unto it that is impossible linguistically, so that he creates a word something like 'leaster'. 'I am the leaster of all the apostles' - that's what he's saying. Now, Paul's word in Latin: Paulus - his name in Latin - means 'small'. So it's as if he's making a play on words here, and in effect what he is saying - listen to this: 'I am little by name, little probably in stature, and morally and spiritually littler than all the least of the Christians. I'm the leaster!' Small Paul! It's amazing, isn't it? This is the chief, perhaps the pre-eminent theologian of the church of Jesus Christ of all time, and he says: 'I'm the leaster of all Christians'. That's some lesson, isn't it? For whenever we think we're getting somewhere we're 'big men', aren't we? 'We've got a bit of truth under our arm, and a few notes in our Bible and we've got some theology all worked out, and everybody else is wrong and I'm right' - and Paul, the greatest of all, is the 'leaster'!
You see, that had to be his disposition in order that the dispensation could go forth. If he hadn't that disposition he could never be trusted, and indeed the grace that is talked about in verse 8 - the reason why he was given that grace, in a sense - is because he needed it! He recognised that he was the 'leaster' of the apostles. Now, I'm indebted to one of the brethren here for this information. Look at the scriptures, 1 Corinthians - you don't need to look at it now, but when you get home - 1 Corinthians 15:9. AD 59, Paul says: 'For I am the least of the apostles'. AD 64, Paul says - Ephesians 3:8, what we read here: 'Who am the less than the least of all the saints'. AD 65, Paul says - 1 Timothy 1:15 - he was 'the chief of sinners'. See the digression - going down: 'the least of the apostles', then, 'who am the less than the least of all the saints', then, 'who is the chief of sinners'. This tells me this: that the closer he got to God and to Christ, the more he saw his sin! Don't tell me that he had any sinless perfection because I'll not buy it. It's not here! In fact, the exact opposite is here - the more he saw of Christ and His awesome laser light of holiness, the more he fell in the dust. And as John, if we could learn it, He had to increase - He had to - and John had to decrease!
But then we see here the message of the mystery, on your sheet. This tells us that Paul had a theology of revelation. The revelation that he had was a message of the mystery, and this is it unfolding before us this evening, and we can only deal with maybe one them. The first thing was - in the mystery - was that Paul was given the dispensation to preach Christ to the Gentiles. Look at it - verse 8 - the second part: 'preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ'. The great Toscanini once gave a concert, and the audience were so impressed and gave such an enthusiastic response that they gave him several encores. After a while there was a silence after the commotion, and Toscanini turned his back upon the audience and turned to the orchestra, and this is what he said: 'I am nothing. You are nothing. Beethoven: he is everything!'.
We are only carrying out the composition of God almighty! Isn't that right? We are His poem. We are His masterpiece. We are the players on His stage. We are carrying out what He has determined, through the grace of God that has been revealed to us by the revelation of Jesus Christ, who is the express image - the stamp of God - who died for our sins. We have trusted in His blood and God has engaged us into the greatest counsel of all the universe: a church of Jesus Christ - spotless, washed in His blood, pure and doing the will of God. But the point is this: that if we preach anything but Christ, we're liars! Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1: 'But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God'. So he preached the unsearchable riches of Christ, and I finish with this, it literally could be translated this: 'riches that cannot be traced'. Inexplorable, untraceable, unfathomable, inexhaustible, illimitable, inscrutable, incalculable, infinite! What he is talking about is all the saving riches of God, the sanctifying riches of Christ, the relational riches that we have with Him from day to day as we carry on a relationship, the practical riches that we face day by day when we face the trials and the stumbling blocks and the pits that the enemy would set in front of us. But He practically comes with His riches and - praise God! - they are eternal riches, and they can never ever be exhausted.
We've much more to do, but let me ask you this: we all have value systems - don't we? - what we consider as important, as priceless, sentimental value. Where does Christ come on that list? For to Paul and, as far as he was concerned, to the church at large, Christ ought to be unsearchable riches. He ought to come first.
Our Father, we thank Thee for the Lord Jesus Christ: the cornerstone, not of this physical building, but of every person in this place who has trusted Christ and His blood. They are firm on the Rock, Christ Jesus. But Lord, the consequences are that we ought to fall into line. This building, and I'm talking Lord - You know - about the people, have to reflect the stature, the measurements, the whole person of the One in whom they rest. We need, like Paul, to have grace to do that Lord, so we ask, Lord, give us the grace that will be sufficient for our need. Bless us now as we part, in that lovely unsearchable name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the thirteenth tape in his Ephesians series, titled "The Revelation Of The Mystery" - Transcribed by Trevor Veale, Preach The Word.
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