The Mystery
of the Gospel Revealed

Jerry Fite

Six times in the book of Ephesians the word "mystery" occurs. Phrases such as "the mystery of His will" (Ephesians 1:9), "the mystery of Christ" (Ephesians 3:4), and "the mystery of the gospel" (Ephesians 6:19) point to God's plan of redeeming man from sin and death. Through "revelation", Paul preached the unsearchable riches of Christ making known the "dispensation" or stewardship "of the mystery" (Ephesians 3:4, 8-9). The "mystery is great" as it emphasizes "Christ and the church" (Ephesians 5:32).

God's great mystery speaks of relationships. The relationship of Christ with His church is one characterized by self-sacrificing love on the part of Christ and reverential obedience to Christ on the part of each member of the Lord's church or body. (Ephesians 5:24-25). The Jew and Gentile relationship in the church of Christ is one of sharing in the same spiritual blessings, "to wit, that the Gentiles are fellow-heirs, and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ through the gospel" (Ephesians 3:6). Being justified on the basis of one's faith in Christ instead of racial distinctions unifies men and women as fellow-heirs in the hope of heaven.

The mystery is an encompassing plan of saving mankind from sin and death. It is the mystery of God's will. It is "according to His good pleasure which He purposed..." (Ephesians 1:9), not according to man's purpose. It is designed "to sum up all things" or literally head up all things "in Christ, the things in the heavens, and the things upon the earth..." (Ephesians 1:10), not according to man's shortsightedness. The mystery points to making a people fit for God as "a heritage" and this heritage, characterized by holy living , is to "be unto the praise of His glory", (Ephesians 1:11-12), not necessarily in what man would glory. And the ultimate goal of God's will in the mystery is to redeem His people from the grave. This "redemption of God's own possession" is "unto the praise of His glory" (Ephesians 1:14), for no man has the power in himself to raise the dead.

The Greek word "musterion" comes from the word “muo” meaning to "shut the mouth". Thus, the mystery is that which is secret, or not as yet revealed. The same idea is found in our speech when we say, "mum 's the word". Nothing but the sound of compressed lips - "mum" is being uttered. A secret is being held.

The concept of mystery as a secret is seen in God's great redemptive plan for man. Paul declares that the mystery of Christ "in other generations was not made known unto the sons of men,..." (Ephesians 3:5) and "for ages hath been hid in God who created all things" (Ephesians 3:9). Paul writes, "but we speak God's wisdom in a mystery, even the wisdom that hath been hidden, which God foreordained before the worlds unto our glory, which none of the rulers of this world hath known: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory: but as it is written, Things which eye saw not, and ear heard not, and which entered not into the heart of man, whatsoever things God prepared for them that love Him." (I Corinthians 2:7-9). The mystery "hath been kept in silence through times eternal..." (Romans 16:25). The plan of od is a mystery because it was hidden, and remained a mystery until God decided to reveal it.

When the fullness of time came, what had been kept in silence, "now is made known unto all the nations unto obedience of faith" (Romans 16:26). Things which never entered into the heart of man, "God revealed them through the Spirit...But we received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is from God; that we might know the things that were freely given to us of God. Which things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Spirit teacheth; combining spiritual things with spiritual words" (I Corinthians 2:10-13). The mystery "...hath now been revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit" (Ephesians 3:5). As one of these apostles, Paul declares, "how that by revelation was made known unto me the mystery..." (Ephesians 3:3). What was hidden, was no longer secret. It was now revealed.

After the mystery or secret is revealed, it can be known. For example, Paul writes, "Behold, I tell you a mystery: We all shall not sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed" (I Corinthians 15:51-52). The instant change from a corruptible to an incorruptible body for those living when Christ returns is now revealed and is made known. We can know it and believe it for Paul has made this mystery known. The ship in the bottle may be a mystery, but when the secret of how the ship is constructed is revealed , then it may still be a source of amazement, but no longer a mystery.

Paul makes the same claim for the mystery when he writes, "whereby, when ye read, ye can perceive my understanding in the mystery of Christ" (Ephesians 3:4). Notice when one reads words that Paul has written, he or she can perceive or understand in their mind Paul's understanding of the mystery of Christ. God chose to reveal His mystery through words. Words when understood clear up mysteries. For example, Paul says one "speaketh mysteries" when he speaks in a language no one understands (I Corinthians 13:2). But when one speaks as a prophet would in a language common to the speaker and listener, then "he speaketh unto men edification, and exhortation, and consolation" (I Corinthians 13:3). Why? Because the words convey meaning that build up, encourage and offer comfort. Deacons are to be "holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience" (I Timothy 3:9). How can one continue to truly possess something which instructs his conscience if he cannot understand it? Yet, these servants could hold to the mystery of the faith for it had been revealed through understandable words. This revealed mystery can be grasped by our minds and in turn we can give answer as to why we are to believe what we believe, for Christ is the one "in whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden" (Colossians 2:3). This helps protect us from being carried away by false teaching for, "This I say, that no one may delude you with persuasiveness of speech" (Colossians 2:4). If we cannot understand through words what God has revealed, how would we be protected from the "persuasive speech" of false teachers?

We must not be influenced by many today who look at God's revelation as something man can never understand. Such thinking leads to looking at revealed truth as relative, instead of absolute. It lies behind such thoughts as , "We will never come to unanimity on that subject", and leads to such disparaging thinking as, "if we do all agree on the subject we will have probably formed a reed." Brethren, God demands in accordance with the authority of our Lord that we "speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfected together in the same mind and in the same judgment" ( I Corinthians 1:10). God demands that we be not foolish, "but understand what the will of the Lord is" (Ephesians 3:17).

If we, at a certain point in time, do not understand God's revealed truth alike, then may we be busy in studying together what God has revealed instead of closing doors for study and resorting to perverting such passages as Romans 14 to justify doctrinal diversity on such subjects as instrumental music, institutionalism, modest dress, social drinking, marriage divorce and remarriage or any other subject concerning which God has revealed his will. May we communicate to a younger generation through our words and actions that since the mystery of the faith is now revealed, it is knowable and understandable. We cannot give up on the maturing process of coming to the unity of the faith by stumbling over the barriers that we cannot understand God's word, and if so, certainly not alike. We must remind ourselves constantly in a world where truth is considered relative that "the mystery of the faith" is "one faith" (Ephesians 4:5), not many faiths.

The great mystery of Christ and the church not only speaks of the general subject of salvation in Christ, but also includes how we should live our daily lives as we wait for the Lord's return. God's goal is to "present the church to himself a glorious church not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish" (Ephesians 5:27). The riches of this "mystery" is "Christ in you the hope of glory". It is accomplished by first proclaiming Christ and "admonishing every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ" (Colossians 1:27-28). As we can understand the mystery of salvation in Christ for all men, because it has been revealed, every man can also understand through the same revelation of God's mystery how he should walk in Christ. Paul exhorts, "As therefore ye received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and builded up in Him, and established in your faith, even as ye were taught, abounding in thanksgiving" (Colossians 2:6-7). Words that revealed our salvation in Christ, has also revealed how we are to live. It is all part of the mystery of Christ. We can not only know God's truth and have unity in what we must do to enjoy salvation from sin, but we can know God's truth and have unity in how we are to live as we wait for our Saviour from heaven.

The mystery of the gospel is a message that often demands courage to preach. In asking for the prayers of his brethren, Paul requests that "utterance may be given unto me in opening my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak" (Ephesians 6:19-20). Paul asked for an open door to "speak the mystery of Christ...that I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak" (Colossians 4:3-4). Notice the mystery was to made visible and shining for all to see. It demands boldness because not all people are willing to accept the demands of the teaching . Paul, in revealing the mystery of Christ where all men are equal, stirred up the jealousy of the Jews and he was imprisoned over it (Acts 21). His message revealed the vanity of a cherished religion, and carried with it consequences that hurt the pocket book of the Ephesians (Acts 19). It takes courage and boldness to speak the mystery of the gospel as needed. May we never succumb to the false notion that when we preach the truth it will always be liked, and may we never compromise the mystery by ignoring or changing what has been revealed in order to make it more palatable. May we never forget that what has been revealed for all to know is "the mystery of His will", not ours; It is the mystery of Christ, not some popular preacher; and it is "mystery of the gospel", not man's wisdom

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