Grace—so much meaning packed into such a little word. We can offer a simple definition (God’s unmerited favor), but to actually plumb the depths of that mystery is way beyond human capability. Despite this, today we’re going to try to dive a little deeper than we normally do, simply because the effort can pay such rich dividends.
Paul starts the passage with “For this reason. . .” Conjunctions and connecting phrases can be really useful here. When we see something like this, in order to follow an author’s thought process, we need to ask questions like “For what reason? What was Paul talking about in the last few verses?” Keep in mind that the chapter and verse divisions are there for our convenience, but they’re not inspired like the actual words of Paul are; in the original manuscript, there would've been no chapter and verse divisions, nor even word divisions.
This goes back to the topic of the last passage: The fact that in Christ’s body the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile has been torn down forever. Jews and Gentiles had been separated by culture, mores, religion, and mutual hatred. But in Christ, just as the curtain which separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the world was torn down, so was the barrier between Jew and Gentile was removed permanently.
Keep in mind that in Paul’s letters the word “mystery” means something quite different from modern common usage. It’s not something really to be solved. It’s something which was hidden in the mind and plan of God in eternity past, and which has now been revealed at the correct time. Paul used it to describe 1) the Incarnation, 2) Christ living within us, which is the hope of glory, and 3) the previously unknown revelation that those believers who happen to be alive when Christ returns will changed in a moment and given resurrection bodies without experiencing death.
The thing that all these mysteries had in common was that it was relatively unknown in the O.T. There were strong hints at times, but it wasn’t laid out as plainly for them as it has been for us.
The other thing they had in common was that these mysteries are not meant to be solved like a murder mystery but something to be reveled in. You’re meant to contemplate it, meditate on it, and use it as a springboard for worship.
Paul was chosen by God as a messenger of the Good News, in which this mystery was contained. And what was this mystery to which he’s referring? The glorious truth that in Christ Jew and Gentile are now one in the Father’s family. Within our Father's house there are absolutely no racial, social, or spiritual distinctions.
Now, as with the other mysteries we mentioned, there were hints in the O.T. about this. Abraham was promised that through him all nations would be blessed. Moses told his people that they were to be a nation of priests—hinting that in God's plan they would be mediators between the Lord and the nations. One time as we read the Psalms, my wife and I took note of all the times that the Psalmist either predicted or called for all the nations to join them in worshipping the Lord (at least 20 times to my recollection). The prophets (Isaiah in particular) predicted that all the nations would come to the Lord and submit to him one way or another (for example here).
But like the other mysteries, the fullness of what God had hinted at was fulfilled in Christ. And the fact that Gentiles would not only come to faith in the Lord but would be fully equal co-heirs with the Jews was something new, hence vs. 5: “[It was] not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets.”
And this was what Paul was called to: To take this glorious truth (the unity of Jews and Gentiles in the church) and make it “become flesh” so to speak as both Jews and Gentiles came to belief together and worshipped together and were fully reconciled to each other.
Here we get to my favorite part of the passage, the one that sends chills up my spine. Do you want to impress angels? Well, congratulations, you’re already doing it. Paul tells us that the whole reason why God is doing all this is so that “through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.” I want you to ponder that just for a moment. Angels and demons--and any other spiritual forces out there that I can’t even contemplate--look at the Church united. . .and tremble. The angels see her, tremble, and worship their Master. The demons see her, and just tremble.
We’re living trophies of his grace and mercy and love and power and sovereignty and wisdom. Here Paul mentions that the Church is his wisdom on display. It’s “manifold.” As you unfold it, there’s still more to uncover. You unfold it some more, and there’s more to discover. How long does this take? Eternity. We’ll have forever and ever to unfold all this, and we’ll never reach bottom. But we’re going to experience a lot of joy trying.
Keep in mind, however, that all this theology has a purpose. That purpose is not to fill your head with knowledge, nor to satisfy your idle curiosity. No, he says in vs. 13 that because of these things which we’ve talked about, he asks us not to be discouraged and to see his sufferings as “glory,” not something to be mourned.
Theology must change your perspective on your daily life, and how you think will bleed out into how you talk and how you act.
Lord Jesus, that’s the reason I was born, why I was born again, and why I was united with the Church. All glory and honor and worship and thanksgiving belong to you, and by your grace I’m going to do my best to see that you get what you deserve.