The Mystery of the Church
Rev. Dr. Ernest Brodie Jr.
There are many mysteries in life. Consider the auto industry that spends millions of dollars developing radical new car designs and improvements. They keep them covered and out of sight. When the research is completed and the car ready for production, the automakers hold an unveiling ceremony. In the Old Testament, the church was a mystery, The mystery of the church is not mysterious for us, because we have the New Testament and are living in the church age (the dispensation of grace). However, in the Old Testament the church was concealed.
The unveiling of the the mystery of the church. (Ephesians 3:1-2)
Paul was a prisoner (verse 1) not because he was an evil man but because he preached the Word of God and salvation by grace to the Gentiles. God used Paul to write 13 of the 27 New Testament books. He did not write the book of Acts, although he is one of the dominant characters in the book. Paul endured three separate imprisonments for a total of five years. (Overnight in Philippi; three years in Caesarea; three years in Rome). In Caesarea, he was falsely accused of bringing a Gentile into the temple courtyard, and he was arrested and imprisoned. Paul appealed to Caesar. Because he was a citizen of Rome he was transported there and imprisoned while he awaited his trial before Caesar. (Acts 21:7 - 28:16).
Ephesians 3:2 mentions the dispensation of the grace of God. A dispensation is a stewardship or responsibility given to a particular group of people for a specific period of time. In the Scriptures, we find seven dispensations. During the church age (the age we are in now) and the tribulation period, the dispensation is the dispensation of grace. (After the tribulation period, the kingdom age begins.)
The hidden nature of the mystery of the church. (Ephesians 3:3-6)
Before the dispensation of grace, God's plan for the church age was unknown. Much about the new covenant was also unknown before the earthly ministry of Christ. By revelation, this mystery was made known to Paul (verses 3-5a).
The church age was hinted at by the prophets of old. Ephesians 3:5b: “As it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.” Isaiah 49:6: “And he said, It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth.” Isaiah 11:10: “And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious.” Isaiah 60:1-3: “Arise, shine; for thy light is come (pointing to Jesus), and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.”
The church age was revealed by the apostles (Ephesians 3:5b), such as Paul, Peter, James, Judas, John, and others.
Ephesians 3:6: “That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel.” Salvation of the Gentiles meant that they were now fellow heirs with the Jewish believers. They were adopted and grafted into God's family. The church is one body (Ephesians 5:30-32). Spiritual promises were extended to include the Gentile believers in the church age. NOTE: The church will never be Israel, nor will the church inherit the physical blessings that are promised (and will be fulfilled) to Israel.
The ministry of the mystery of the church. (Ephesians 3:7-13)
A minister must minister by grace. Ephesians 3:7: “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.” He is called by grace, enabled by grace, and developed by grace. The ministry suffers when he loses sight of the fact that salvation rests in grace.
A minister must minister as a servant (verse 8). Paul thought of himself as “least of all saints.” The ministry suffers when the minister loses sight of his role as a servant. Ministry is about serving the Savior.
A minister must remain in awe of the “unsearchable riches of Christ” (verse 8). The ministry suffers when he loses sight of salvation's greatness and the unsearchable riches given to us in Christ. May we never lose the awe of all that God has done for us.
A minister must be tenacious. Ephesians 3:9: “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.” When we easily surrender to the hardships and sorrows of life the ministry and the minster’s effectiveness suffers. People are watching. Giving up robs God of the victory and glory. Satan becomes the victor.
The results of the mystery of the church unveiled. (Ephesians 3:10-13)
One result is the amazement of the angels or “principalities and powers” (verse 10). 1 Peter 1:11-13: “Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into. Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ”
Another result of the mystery of the church is a believer will glorify God (verse 11). This is his ultimate goal. A believers’s secondary goal is the salvation of sinners (verse 12). The encouragement of the saints is a believer’s third goal (verse 13).
No matter the ups and downs of life, we can have confidence in God. Romans 8:18: “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Find strength in Christ and give Him the glory.