One of the quirks of this effort to highlight the “Voice that Matters Most” here on SBCVoices is that we divided the text based on the CSB translation. The goal was to provide some standardization and for you readers to be able to open a Bible and track with us. Some of the (other) writers can do this in Greek, but others (me) aren’t quite so good with it, and we wanted this to be reasonable for a blog. The result, though, is that some of our sections divide in strange places if you are in NA28 or even NASB. That goes back to doing the divisions based on sentence structure in the CSB. So, if you’re wondering why your Bible has Ephesians 3:4-7 as a sentence but I don’t start with verse 4, that’s the long answer.
My daughter has picked up a new habit in the last few months. She now carries around a Rubik’s Cube in her purse and, when waiting or bored, she solves it. Then, she hands it to her brother or sister or a random stranger to scramble it and solves it again. Most people tend to stare at her in amazement while she does this, though occasionally her pastor stares in annoyance when she does it mid-sermon. She has, after all, mastered a mystery.
It’s not original knowledge. She did not stay up for weeks on end, puzzling over the possibilities and outcomes, seeing the cause and effect, striving for knowledge. The mystery of the cube was, instead, revealed to her. Partially revealed by her father, who knew much of the mystery, and the gaps were closed by Youtubers. There is, allegedly, only one right pattern to solve a Rubik’s Cube but this mystery is not a closely held secret: it is revealed by its maker to anyone who wants to know.
Now, holding that idea in your head, turn with me to the text at hand: Ephesians 3:5-7.
Ephesians 3:5 opens with “This was not made known…” which should drive you to ask “What is ‘this’?” After all, all pronouns need antecedents. If you look back at v. 4, you’ll see Paul’s reference to the “mystery of Christ” which has been his theme. Here, we see he is about to explain what that mystery is.
First, though, he explains who knows the mystery. Previous generations did not know it, though through the prophets of the Old Testament some portions were able to show glimpses of the mystery of Christ. Instead, it is the apostles and prophets who now reveal this mystery. They did not figure out a mystery, nor did they create one, but instead they are revealing something that has now been made known to them.
Let us take our first application point as this: it is not our job to create new mysteries but to reveal the existing ones. When we reveal the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we are not out there to invent a new way of thinking about God but instead to present what God has already revealed about Himself. Paul even disclaims any uniqueness to his message as he points out that the mystery is now revealed not only to Paul but to the “holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.” The Gospel is not a mystery that can only be known by one or two, but it is the truth of God that should be made known by those who have it.
We would do well to leave aside our tendencies to create new mysteries or complicate this one. After all, what man-made mystery could be better than what God has revealed?
Ephesians 3:6 takes us into the heart of controversial territory: the Gentiles are coheirs, members, and partners in Christ Jesus. While most of us are fully onboard with the immediate impact of the idea, being Gentiles and all, we run the risk of missing the overall point. The implication here is that the mystery of the Gospel is the lack of division based on any factor outside of Jesus. Having been born a Jew might have conferred the advantage of the Old Testament, but it did not carry any weight into the Kingdom of Christ. That is good news for any of us who cannot connect our family tree backward into one of the Twelve Tribes.
How does that apply now, though? Let us consider how the Ephesians would have seen this. Ephesus, you might recall, had seen Paul start in the synagogue and then transition to the lecture hall of Tyrannus (Acts 19). Some of the Jews had followed Christ and as Paul’s ministry continued, many Gentiles came to the Way as well. Some left their paganism so demonstrably that they burned the thousands of drachmae worth of materials. Then, the church saw its influence grow so much that the economic benefits of idolatry were lost to the community and a riot ensued. The church, then, would have seen the initial Jewish converts to Christ, the later Gentile converts to Christ, and then the hostile Jews and Gentiles of the riot.
The mystery of the Gospel is that not only are the Jews partners in Christ Jesus, the fulfillment of the prophets of old, but the Gentiles are as well. And not just the Gentiles who were persuaded in the lecture hall but that any who had come to the church after the riot. No matter how faith-filled or faith-vacuous the background, all were to be considered equal members in Christ through the Gospel.
You might imagine the application in your local church as you look around this Sunday. You have the initial, founding group–or their descendants! These have been with the church as long as the church has been around. Two pews over, you have some of the first converts made through the church’s work. They do not have the long heritage of Scripture knowledge or even church operations that the first group does, but they are fervent and consistently there. Finally, you have the folks who came in just last week–including those who complained about your church’s picnic in the city park last fall!
All of you, though, are equal heirs of the Kingdom of God.
You could turn the order on its head: your church has those fresh to the grace of God, finally free of sin and ready to celebrate. Then you have those who have been there just a bit too long to still have enthusiasm. Finally, you have those whose faith may be real and may just be a legacy of generations gone by…but for all those who claim the name of Christ, there is a single label: coheir with one another.
A giant step for Christian witness would be found if we would look to the left and to the right and see one another as coheirs in Christ: utterly dependent on our inheritance from the same Father of all.
The last verse, Ephesians 3:7, gives a great reminder to the preachers and teachers among us: we are servants of the Gospel. It is not ours to set the boundaries or conditions of the Gospel, but to see how it is revealed. It is not ours to shortcut how God works in His power, but instead to proclaim His grace to all, for both Jew and Gentile are coheirs in Christ Jesus.