The Church as Administered by Paul

Ephesians 3  •  19 min. read  •  grade level: 9
PH 3:1-21{We have viewed the Church according to the counsels of God in the first portion of the Epistle to the Eph. 1; 2:1-10. We have also seen the Church in the ways of God on earth in chapter 2:11- 22. Coming now to the third chapter, we have the Church presented in connection with the administration of Paul. The whole chapter is a parenthesis. Chapter 2 presents the doctrine of the Church; chapter 4, the practical exhortations based upon the doctrine. Between the doctrine and the exhortations we have this important digression in which the Holy Spirit presents the special administration, or service, committed to Paul in connection with the truth of the Church.
In connection with this service we learn that it was the insistence upon the truth of the Church that brought the apostle within the walls of a prison. This great truth aroused the special hatred and hostility of the Jew inasmuch as it not only viewed Jew and Gentile in the same position before God -dead in trespasses and sins-but it entirely refused to exalt the Jew to a place of blessing above the Gentile.
We are then informed by what means the apostle acquired his knowledge of the truth of the mystery. It was not through communications from men, but by a direct revelation from God: "By revelation He made known unto me the mystery." This meets a great difficulty that arises in connection with the truth of the mystery. When Paul preached the Gospel in the Jewish synagogues, he invariably appealed to the Scriptures (see Acts 13:27,29,32,35,47;17:227For they that dwell at Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they knew him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath day, they have fulfilled them in condemning him. (Acts 13:27)
29And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a sepulchre. (Acts 13:29)
32And we declare unto you glad tidings, how that the promise which was made unto the fathers, (Acts 13:32)
35Wherefore he saith also in another psalm, Thou shalt not suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. (Acts 13:35)
47For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth. (Acts 13:47)
2And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures, (Acts 17:2)
), and the Jews of Berea are expressly commended inasmuch as they searched the Scriptures to see if the word preached by Paul was in accord with it. But when the apostle ministered the truth of the Church, he could no longer appeal to the Old Testament for confirmation. It would be useless for his hearers to search the Scriptures to see if these things were so. The unbelief of the Jew made it difficult for him to accept many truths that were in his Scriptures, even as Nicodemus failed to grasp the truth of new birth. But to accept something that was not there, something, too, which set aside the whole Jewish system that was there, and which had existed with the sanction of God for centuries, was, to the Jew as such, an insuperable difficulty.
Many Christians can hardly appreciate this difficulty, inasmuch as the truth of the Church is largely obscured in their minds, or even totally lost. Viewing the Church as the aggregate of all believers through all time, they have no difficulty in finding what they believe to be the Church in the Old Testament. That this has been the thought of godly men is amply proved by the headings they have given to many Old Testament chapters in the Authorized Version. Accept, however, the truth of the Church, as unfolded in the Epistle to the Ephesians, and at once we are faced with this difficulty which can only be met by the fact that the truth of the Church is an entirely fresh revelation.
This great truth which Paul had received by revelation he speaks of as "the mystery" and again in verse 4 as "the mystery of the Christ." In using the term mystery, Paul does not wish to convey the thought of anything mysterious-a purely human use of the word. In Scripture a mystery is something which has before been kept secret, that could not be otherwise known than by revelation, and, when revealed, can only be apprehended by faith. The apostle proceeds to explain that this mystery was not made known to the sons of men in the Old Testament days but now is made known by revelation unto the "holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit." The prophets spoken of are clearly not Old Testament prophets, any more than in chapter 2:20. In both cases the order is "apostles and prophets," not "prophets and apostles," as might be expected had the reference been to the prophets of the Old Testament. Moreover, the apostle is speaking of what is "now" revealed, in contrast to what was formerly revealed.
What then is this mystery? It is clearly not the Gospel which was not hidden in other ages. The Old Testament is full of allusions to the grace of God and to the coming Savior, though these revelations were but little understood. We are plainly told in verse 6 that this new revelation is that the Gentiles "should be joint heirs, and a joint Body and joint partakers of (His) promise in Christ Jesus by the glad tidings" (JND. Tr.). The Gentiles are made joint heirs with the Jews, not in Christ's earthly kingdom, but in that far greater inheritance described in chapter 1 which includes both things in Heaven and things on earth. And more, the Gentile believers are formed with Jewish believers into a joint Body of which Christ is the Head in Heaven. Moreover, they jointly partake of God's promise in Christ Jesus. The Gentile is not raised to the Jewish level on earth, nor is the Jew brought down to the Gentile level. Both are taken off their old standing and raised to an immeasurably higher plane, united to one another on entirely new and heavenly ground in Christ. And all this is brought to pass by the Gospel which addresses both on one common level of guilt and utter ruin. The three great facts referred to in this verse are unfolded in chapter 1. The promise in Christ includes all the blessings unfolded in the first seven verses of that chapter; the inheritance is opened out before us in verses 8-21, and the "one Body" in verses 22 and 23.
The mystery can be thus briefly stated within the compass of a single verse, but to lay hold of the greatness of the truth and all that is involved therein, demands the deepest spiritual exercise. One has said, "It is wonderful (amazing) how slow Christians are to understand the largeness of the counsels of God.... In general we are obliged to be much more occupied with the details of the Christian life than with the great principles of this life." In the contemplation of the mystery we are carried back before the foundation of the world to find its source in the heart of the Father. There all was counseled according to His good pleasure. There, too, in God, this great mystery remained hidden throughout the ages of time, until, in the ways of God, the moment was ripe for its revelation. Before that moment was reached, great events must transpire: the world must be tested and proved to be an utterly ruined world; Christ must be manifested in the flesh and His redemption work accomplished; He must be raised from the dead and seated in the glory; lastly, the Holy Spirit must come to earth.
The presence of Christ on earth was the final and greatest test for man. Dwelling among men, full of grace and truth, He "went about doing good." On every hand He manifested a power that could relieve man of every possible ill—whether from sin, disease, death, or the devil. Moreover, with a heart filled with compassion, He manifested a grace that used His power on behalf of sinful men. In result, all this manifestation of divine goodness only brought to light the absolute hatred of man for the perfect goodness of God. It was the final demonstration of the complete ruin of man whether Jew or Gentile. The Jews, utterly rejecting the long-promised Messiah, sealed their doom in saying, "We have no King but Caesar." This was apostasy. The Gentiles proved their utter ruin by using the government that God had put into their hands to condemn the Son of God after having judicially pronounced Him innocent. The cross was man's answer to God's love-the final proof that not only is man a sinner, but a ruined sinner, beyond all hope of recovery in himself. What happens? The Christ that the world has rejected ascends to glory, and the world comes under judgment. The light of the world is put out, and the world is left in darkness. The Prince of life is slain, and the world is left in death. Death and darkness cover the whole scene, Jew and Gentile both alike, dead to God in trespasses and sins.
Is there, then, no more hope for a ruined world? Must the world roll on to judgment with its vast freight of ruined souls? Has man been vanquished by sin and death? Has the Devil thwarted the purposes of God, encompassed man in hopeless ruin and triumphed over all? As far as man is concerned there is but one answer. All is ruined-irretrievably ruined. The cross proves that it is not a dying world, but a dead world, "Because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead." But in this supreme crisis, when the end of the world is reached and its awful history of sin is closed in death, then God falls back upon His eternal counsels, acts according to His own good pleasure, and in due time discloses the secrets of His heart. If the world is dead, God lives, and the living God acts according to His counsels. The world had put the Christ of God upon a cross of shame: God raises Christ from among the dead and seats Him upon a throne of glory; in due time, on the great day of Pentecost, the Spirit of God comes into the world from the glorified Christ. Wonderful indeed was that moment when the earth was waste and empty and darkness was upon the face of the deep and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters, but far more wonderful the day when the Spirit of God came into a world that had ruined itself by putting out the light of the world and putting to death the Prince of life. May we not say that once again "darkness was upon the face of the deep," and once again "the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters"? God commences a new creation work based, not upon a dying man, but upon "Christ the Son of the living God"-the beginning of the Creation of God.
From the midst of a world of apostate Jews and godless Gentiles, God calls out a great company of quickened souls, redeemed by blood, and forgiven according to the riches of His grace; and not only calls them out of a ruined world but unites them in one Body with Christ their Head in Heaven. They are not of the world from which Christ has been rejected, even as He is not of the world (John 17:1616They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. (John 17:16)), but they belong to Heaven where Christ is seated, their risen and exalted Head. Moreover they will be associated with Christ in His glorious inheritance when He will have dominion over the whole created universe of God, whether they be things in Heaven or things on earth.
Such then is this great mystery, in other ages not made known unto the sons of men, but now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit, and ministered to us through the apostle Paul. For of this great truth, as the apostle tells us, he was made a minister (v. 7). It is not that it was not revealed to the other apostles-Paul tells us that it was—but to him was committed the special service of ministering this truth to the saints. Hence only in the epistles of Paul do we find any unfolding of the mystery. The grace of God had given this ministry to the apostle, and the power of God enabled him to use the gift of grace. God's gif ts can be used only in God's power.
Moreover the apostle tells us the effect this great truth had upon himself (v. 8). In the presence of the greatness of God's grace, he sees that he is the chief of sinners (1 Tim. 1:1515This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. (1 Timothy 1:15)); in the presence of the immense vista of blessing unfolded by the mystery, he feels that he is less than the least of all saints. The greater the glories that are opened to our vision, the smaller we become in our own eyes. The man who had the largest apprehension of this great mystery in all its vast extent, was the man who owns he is less than the least of all saints.
In order to fulfill his ministry, the apostle preached among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ (v. 8). Paul not only proclaimed the irretrievable ruin of man, but the unsearchable riches of Christ, riches beyond all human computation, carrying blessings that have no limit. Could we search to the end of His riches, we should not reach the limit of the blessings that these riches bestow.
The preaching of the Gospel, however, was in view of the second part of Paul's service-to en-lighten all with the knowledge of "the administration of the mystery" (v. 9, JND. Tr.). Not simply to enlighten all with the truth of the mystery, but with the knowledge of how it is administered; to show all men how the counsel of God from eternity to eternity is brought about in time by the formation of the Assembly on earth, and thus bring to light in public that which has hitherto been hidden in God from the beginning of the world.
But more, not only would God have all men enlightened as to the formation of the Assembly on earth, but it is His intent that now all the heavenly beings should learn in the Church the manifold wisdom of God. These heavenly beings had seen the creation come fresh from the hands of God, and, as they beheld His wisdom in creation, they sang for joy. Now in the formation of the Church they see "the all-various wisdom of God" (v. 10, JND. Tr.). Creation was the most perfect expression of creatorial wisdom; but in the formation of the Church, God's wisdom is displayed in every form. Before the Church could be formed, God's glory had to be vindicated, man's need must be met, sin must be put away, death abolished, and the power of Satan annulled. The barrier must be removed between Jew and Gentile, Heaven opened, Christ seated as a Man in the glory, the Holy Spirit come to earth and the Gospel preached. All this and more is involved in the formation of the Church, and these varied ends could be attained only by the all-various wisdom of God-wisdom displayed, not only in one direction, but in every direction. Thus the Church on earth becomes the lesson book of heavenly and angelic beings. Nor has the failure of the Church in its responsibilities altered the fact that in the Church the angels learn this lesson. On the contrary, it only makes more manifest the marvelous wisdom that, rising above all man's failure, overcoming every obstacle, at last brings the Church to glory "according to the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord."
In the following verses (12 and 13) the apostle turns aside from the unfolding of the mystery to give a brief word as to its practical effect. These wonders are not unrolled before our vision simply to be admired, admirable indeed as they are, for as David said of the House of God, it is "exceeding magnifical." But it is equally true that the mystery is exceedingly practical, and in these two verses we see the effect of the mystery when rightly apprehended and acted upon. It is a truth that will make us at home in God's world, but put us outside man's world. As the blind man of John 9, when cast out by the religious world, finds himself in the presence of the Son of God, so Paul has access to the palace in Heaven (v. 12), but finds himself in a prison on earth (v. 13). Christ Jesus, the One through whom all these eternal purposes will be fulfilled, is the One by whom we have access by faith to the Father. If in Christ we are going to be set before God holy, without blame, in love, then in Christ we have holy boldness even now and access to the Father with confidence. This great truth makes us at home in the presence of the Father. But in the world it will lead to tribulation. This Paul found, but he says, "Faint not at my tribulations." To accept the truth of the mystery-to walk in the light of it-will at once put us outside the course of this world and, above all, outside the religious world. Act upon this truth and at once we shall meet the opposition of the religious world. It will be with us as it was with Paul, a continual struggle, and especially with all that Judaizes.
And it must be so, for these great truths entirely undermine the worldly constitution of every manmade religious system. Is the truth of the mystery, with the knowledge of which Paul sought to enlighten all men, proclaimed from the pulpits of Christendom, from holiness conventions, or even from evangelical platforms? Is the truth of the mystery involving the total ruin of man, the utter rejection of Christ by the world, the session of Christ in glory, and the presence of the Holy Spirit on earth, the separation of the believer from the world, and the calling of the saints to Heaven-is this great truth proclaimed or acted upon in the national churches and religious denominations of Christendom? No, it has no place in their creeds, their prayers, or their teaching. More and worse, it is denied by their very constitution, their teaching, and their practice.
But if this is so, we have a resource. We can pray, and hence these two verses (12 and 13) lead quite naturally to the prayer of the apostle with which the chapter closes. If we have boldness and access with confidence, then we can pray. If we are faced with tribulations, then we must pray. So that in the presence of the special service given to Paul to minister the truth, and the tribulation in which this service involved him, he has only one resource, to bow his knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The prayer in the first of Ephesians was addressed to the "God of our Lord Jesus Christ." There Christ is viewed as a Man in relation to God, and from Christ set over all, we look down upon the inheritance spread out in all its vast extent of glory. Here the prayer is addressed to the "Father of our Lord Jesus Christ," and Christ is viewed as the Son in relation to the Father, and instead of looking down upon the inheritance, we look up to divine Persons.
The request in the first prayer is that we might know the hope of His calling, the glory of His inheritance, and the exceeding greatness of His power. But this prayer rises beyond the calling, extends beyond the inheritance, and leads to that which is greater than power. For here the apostle prays, not only that we may know the hope of the calling, but that Christ-the One in whom we are called-may dwell in our hearts; not only that we may know the riches of His inheritance, but that we may know the fullness of God; not only that we may know His exceeding power, but that we may know the love of Christ that passes knowing.
In order that these requests may be granted, the apostle prays that there might be a special work by the Holy Spirit in the inner man. In the first prayer the power is toward us; here the power works in us. There it was the enlightenment of the eyes to see the inheritance; here it is a work in the heart to comprehend the love. To enter into the deep things of God we must be rooted and grounded in love. To be rooted and grounded in the knowledge of the schools will be of no avail in learning the mysteries of God. Here we touch a region beyond the wit of man. We are in contact with things that eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, things which God alone can teach through our affections. Thus when Christ dwells in the heart by faith, and we are rooted and grounded in love, then we shall be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth and length, and depth, and height. The apostle does not exactly say to what these terms refer, but has he not in view the infinite counsels of God, long hidden, but now at last disclosed in the mystery? This it is possible to comprehend, but there is that which passes knowing-the love of Christ. It can be perfectly enjoyed, but we shall never reach its end or fathom its depths.
Here we are launched upon a shoreless sea whose depths no line has ever fathomed. In the knowledge of this love we shall be filled with all the fullness of God. The "fullness of God" is that with which God is filled. Christ is the fullness of God, as we read, "in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily" (Col. 2:99For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. (Colossians 2:9), JND. Tr.). The Church is the fullness of Christ-"the fullness of Him that filleth all in all" (Eph. 1:2323Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all. (Ephesians 1:23)). God alone can lead our hearts into the knowledge of Christ's love and thus fill us with His fullness. For He is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us. It is not doing things for us, however true that may be, but here it is doing a work in us. The apostle is not speaking of our circumstances and daily needs and all that His mercy can do for us; he is speaking of that vast universe of blessing into which He can lead our souls by a work in us. Nor does the apostle say, "Above all that we can ask or think," as the verse is sometimes wrongly quoted. One has said, "There is a great difference between what we do ask and think, and what we can ask and think. There is no limit to what we may ask." Nor can we limit what God can do in the saints for their blessing and His glory.
This leads the apostle to close with a burst of praise: "To Him be glory in the Assembly in Christ Jesus unto all generations of the age of ages. Amen" (JND. Tr.). It was Paul's high privilege to administer the mystery in time, but, says Paul, let it be to the glory of God throughout eternity. Counseled in eternity before the foundation of the world, it will exist for the glory of God throughout eternity, when the world shall be no more.