In many ways, the first paragraph in Chapter 3 is the key to this great letter of Paul. He begins to describe the great mystery which caused him to devote his life to propagating it around the world. All of us love mysteries. There is something within our natures that love the fascination of something hidden, secret; the hidden truths which need to be discovered and revealed. Our Creator understands this so thoroughly that he has a concealed mysteries in everything that concerns our life. Which explains why Proverbs tells us:
It is the glory of Elohim to hide things
but the glory of kings to investigate them (Proverbs 25:2)
Then Jeremiah proclaimed:
“Call to Me, and I will answer you, and tell you and even show you great and mighty things, things which have been confined and hidden, which you do not know and understand and cannot distinguish” (Jeremiah 33:3)
Sure, we can be pretty savvy on many things, but we don’t know anything entirely. There is always something we don’t understand. Even terms we commonly use, such as love and joy and life itself, are mysteries to us. We know they are essential to our existence, but we don’t know what they are. We always struggle in our attempts to understand the great realities they represent.
This applies to every area of our lives. Even physicists tell us that, hidden away in every physical manifestation of the world and universe around us, is a mystery. The quantum theory, on which they base much of modern physics, and which has unleashed the whole realm of nuclear fission, has at its heart, a principle of suspense, a hidden principle. It states that we never can fully discover the truth about anything; there is an element of hidden information in every subject we try to understand.
We continually confront some form of mystery. Mystery makes life fascinating. And our God knows this. It is within our nature. Paul describes the greatest mystery of life to the Ephesians in these words:
“It is in this great cause that I, Paul, have become Christ’s prisoner for you Gentiles.
“For you must have heard how God gave me grace to become your minister, and how he allowed me to understand his secret by giving me a direct Revelation. (What I have written briefly of this above will explain to you my knowledge of the mystery of Christ.) This secret was hidden to past generations of mankind, but it has now, by the spirit, been made plain to God’s consecrated messengers and prophets. It is simply this: that the Gentiles, who were previously excluded from God’s agreements, are to be equal heirs with his chosen people, equal members and equal partners in God’s promise given by Christ through the Gospel” (Ephesians 3:1-6)
That is his explanation of the mystery which lies at the heart of all life. As we will see, this is the greatest secret ever presented to the minds of men. It is not new to us — we have been discussing and discovering aspects of it all along in his letter. But now we come to the full statement of what it is. The paragraph falls very simply into two divisions. Paul is concerned first about his role as a teacher of this mystery, and then about the mystery itself, about what it is he is teaching.
Sometimes it’s hard for those who don’t read Greek to see how Paul builds his letters. This applies in particular to this passage, because Paul begins “For this reason . . .” — but then he doesn’t give the reason until Verse 13! What’s going on? This is the way Paul’s mind worked. He started saying one thing but then was captured by the truth of something else he is going to say. So he begins to bring it in ahead of time.
Then he was carried along from one truth to another until finally, he gets back to what he started to say in the first place. If you read it this way: “For this reason . . .” then skip down to Verse 13: “. . . I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory,” you will understand what he is trying to say.
Paul was concerned that the Christians he was writing to, the Ephesians, Philippians, and others, would know why he was going through the struggles he was facing. If you and I had been in Rome with Paul, and could have stood in the room where he was living, chained day and night to a Roman soldier, and watched as he dictated the letter, watched him as he paced the floor, with the soldier having to walk along with him, stopping now and then to make corrections, we would have understood something about Paul’s concern for anyone who read this letter. They couldn’t understand why he had to be a prisoner — limited, unable to come to them in their need as a growing young church — and why all communication with him had to be through his letters. So he was writing to calm their fears and to show them what it was all about.
His first statement is this: “I am a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles . . .” Oh! Notice that he never claims to a prisoner of Caesar. He was indeed, Caesar’s prisoner. He was arrested because the Jews had charged him with treason against the emperor, but eventually, he was put under the care of the palace guard, the personal bodyguard of the emperor.
Here he was in Rome, a prisoner of Caesar, awaiting trial before Nero. But he never once says that he is a prisoner of Caesar; it is always “a prisoner of Christ Jesus.” The reason is obvious when you read his letters. He saw that Caesar was not the one who had the final say about him; Jesus did! Ceasar was not the one who determined how long he would be confined, it was determined by his Lord Jesus.
That is one thing Paul came to understand. Paul knew that Jesus was in control of history. He saw him as John did in the book of Revelation — as sitting on his throne, holding the reins of government in his hands. He is the One who opens, and no man shuts, who shuts, and no man opens, who orders, and his will is carried out. Paul knew that anytime the Lord Jesus decided his imprisonment would no longer be of value, he would be set free, that when the Lord Jesus spoke, Caesar acted.
This is something we need to learn. Sometimes we become worried and anxious about what the political powers-that-be are doing in the world today. It would be better if we had Paul’s faith who understood so clearly that Caesar was not in control; Jesus is.
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