THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE MYSTERY
By Larry White
(Originally delivered in Baker, OR. January 3, 1988)
The angel whom I saw standing on the sea and on the land raised up his hand to heaven and swore by him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and the things that are in it, the earth and the things that are in it, and the sea and the things that are in it, that there should be delay no longer, but in the days of the sounding of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, the mystery of God would be finished, as he declared to his servants the prophets.
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God,
To the saints who are in Ephesus, and faithful in Christ Jesus:
Grace to you and peace from God our father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Blessed be the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms in Christ, just as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, by which he made us accepted in the beloved.
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace
which he made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, having made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he purposed in himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth – in him.
In him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of his glory.
In him you also [trusted], after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of his glory.
We generally understand a mystery to be something unknown or hidden, not able to be figured out - and in the case of literature, it is known only by the author of the mystery and the reader is enticed by clues and hints, and it is not until the end of the story that anything is revealed, when everything is explained and all the hidden reasons are examined in the light of day. Everybody loves a mystery.
God's mystery was the biggest one of all, that mankind in all his wisdom could never figure out. What was God doing by creating the world and man to live in it? what was God's purpose in the history of mankind?
The word "mystery" is not like the Latin term "mysterium" saying that the mind of man simply cannot ever fathom or comprehend this wisdom. We can understand it; we just did not have the perspective of eternity given to us and the perspective of the Spirit, and the necessary information to appreciate what God was and is doing.
You could look at it like a mystery novel, and the ages of history are its chapters. The end of the ages has come and the light of day reveals everything about the mystery of God. It has all been known and understood since the first century A.D.
6 However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the leaders of this age, who are coming to nothing.
7 But we speak a wisdom of God in mystery, the hidden wisdom which God foreordained before the ages for our glory,
8 which none of the leaders of this age has known; for if they knew, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
9 But as it has been written:
“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for
those who love him.”
10 But God has revealed them to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.
11 For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? So also, no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God.
12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God;
13 which things also we speak, not in words taught by man’s wisdom but taught by the Holy Spirit, applying spiritual things with spiritual men.
14 But a natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
15 But he who is spiritual discerns all things, yet he himself is rightly discerned by no one.
16 For “Who has known the mind of the LORD that he may instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
9.) Man was kept in the dark concerning the final purposes of God.
10.) Man needed a revelation from God to understand.
12.) This revelation came by the Spirit of God
13.) Applying spiritual things with spiritual (i.e. men). Another rendering could be, "with spiritual men spiritual things applying" or appropriating with discernment.
14.) Natural - The Greek is yuchkoV psuchical or psychical man, or soul-ish man, meaning that he only uses the power of his human life and mind to discern anything. He cannot discern spiritual things because he lacks the perspective of God, as has the mind of a child of God who has experienced God's regenerating grace and renewing of the Holy Spirit.
15.) The spiritual man discerns everything - to what esteem it has in God's purpose - and yet the unsaved cannot discern or appreciate his activity or his words and methods. Why?
16.) The spiritual Christian, having the mind of Christ, is just as incomprehensible to the natural man as was Christ himself. "For who has know the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him." In the same way, no one knows the mind of the spiritual man because he has the mind of Christ.
So the Apostles of Jesus Christ knew the mystery and talked about its hidden wisdom to those who were spiritually mature. The Apostles were given a charge to make men see what the mystery was.
... of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God which was given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God, the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to his saints. To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. To this end I also labor, striving according to his working which works in me mightily.
Paul was given a dispensation, i.e. a stewardship in the house of God to make manifest to the saints this mystery.
So the purpose of God through the ages before the New Covenant era, was hidden to man in the period in which the Old Covenant scriptures were written. This purpose was even hidden from prophets and angels who did not know what was going on.
Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when he testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.
To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent forth from heaven – things which angels desire to look into.
Being that this mystery was hidden to those in the Old Covenant period, Jesus said there would, from this time forward, be no more mysteries.
Then his disciples asked him, saying, “What does this parable mean?”
And he said, “To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that
“Seeing they may not see,
And hearing they may not understand.’
This parable was about one of the processes in which the purpose of God is worked out, and so is called a mystery of the kingdom. Jesus shared this inner working with those he called his friends.
It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household!
Therefore do not fear them. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops.
During Christ's ministry the Old Covenant was still in effect and it was not given to everyone to know the mysteries - but there would come a time when the hidden things of the ages would be proclaimed from the housetops. There would be no more mysteries. No hypocritical Pharisee would keep any knowledge (pretended or real) to himself, with a holier than thou attitude, but slaves and the lowliest maidservants would know the deep things of God and prophesy. (Acts 2)
Paul desired intensely that the Colossians and Laodiceans would understand this mystery.
For I want you to know what a great conflict I have for you and those in Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Now this I say lest anyone should deceive you with persuasive words. For though I am absent in the flesh, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ.
As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him.
The acknowledgement of the mystery was imperative for their own safely and spiritual welfare. They must understand it in order to be strong in the truth and not led away by false teachers.
The gospel is not a mystery, but the revealing of one. Gospel preaching is not mysterious, that only an elect few are given the opportunity to understand.
Now to the one who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began but now made manifest, and by the prophetic scriptures, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, published to all nations, for the obedience of faith – to God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever and ever. Amen.
The whole world is given the opportunity to come to Christ for the light of understanding and the appreciation of God's eternal purpose.
This chart is from a very good commentary on Revelation by Arthur M. Ogden that I copied for a class on the book of Revelation. I use it here to illustrate the first viewpoint about what the mystery was.
I ) The mystery involved the Jew and Gentile being formed into one body (one viewpoint)
It was ordered and worked out through Abraham's offspring or seed in the nation of Israel. This was a nation he chose from among the nations of the world at Mount Sinai to be his people and he would be their God.
Among the hard-hearted fleshly Israeli people there was always a core of faithful believers in God who trusted him, and he saw to it that they were protected. These are called the Remnant because the faithful were always the ones left over after a catastrophe or war destroyed the wicked in the nation.
6 "Behold, it is written before me:
I will not keep silence, but will repay--
Even repay into their bosom--
7 Your iniquities and the iniquities of your fathers together,"
"Who have burned incense on the mountains
And blasphemed me on the hills;
Therefore I will measure their former work into their bosom."
8 Thus says Jehovah:
"As the new wine is found in the cluster,
And one says, "Do not destroy it,
For a blessing is in it,'
So will I do for my servants' sake,
That I may not destroy them all.
9 I will bring forth descendants from Jacob,
And from Judah an heir of my mountains;
My elect shall inherit it,
And my servants shall dwell there.
10 Sharon shall be a fold of flocks,
And the Valley of Achor a place for herds to lie down,
For my people who have sought me.
11 "But you are those who forsake Jehovah,
Who forget my holy mountain,
Who prepare a table for Gad,
And who furnish a drink offering for Meni.
12 Therefore I will number you for the sword,
And you shall all bow down to the slaughter;
Because, when I called, you did not answer;
When I spoke, you did not hear,
But did evil before my eyes,
And chose that in which I do not delight."
13 Therefore thus says the Lord GOD:
"Behold, my servants shall eat,
But you shall be hungry;
Behold, my servants shall drink,
But you shall be thirsty;
Behold, my servants shall rejoice,
But you shall be ashamed;
14 Behold, my servants shall sing for joy of heart,
But you shall cry for sorrow of heart,
And wail for grief of spirit.
15 You shall leave your name as a curse to my chosen;
For the Lord GOD will slay you,
And call his servants by another name;
16 So that he who blesses himself in the earth
Shall bless himself in the God of truth;
And he who swears in the earth
Shall swear by the God of truth;
Because the former troubles are forgotten,
And because they are hidden from my eyes.
17 "For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth;
And the former shall not be remembered or come to mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create;
For behold, I create Jerusalem as a rejoicing,
And her people a joy.
19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
And joy in my people;
The voice of weeping shall no longer be heard in her,
Nor the voice of crying.
20 "No more shall an infant from there live but a few days,
Nor an old man who has not fulfilled his days;
For the child shall die one hundred years old,
But the sinner being one hundred years old shall be accursed.
21 They shall build houses and inhabit them;
They shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
22 They shall not build and another inhabit;
They shall not plant and another eat;
For as the days of a tree, so shall be the days of my people,
And my elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
23 They shall not labor in vain,
Nor bring forth children for trouble;
For they shall be the descendants of the blessed of Jehovah,
And their offspring with them.
24 "It shall come to pass
That before they call, I will answer;
And while they are still speaking, I will hear.
25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
The lion shall eat straw like the ox,
And dust shall be the serpent's food.
They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain,"
5 Hear the word of Jehovah,
You who tremble at his word:
"Your brethren who hated you,
Who cast you out for my name's sake, said,
"Let Jehovah be glorified,
That we may see your joy.'
But they shall be ashamed."
6 The sound of noise from the city!
A voice from the temple!
The voice of Jehovah,
Who fully repays his enemies!
7 "Before she was in labor, she gave birth;
Before her pain came,
She delivered a male child.
8 Who has heard such a thing?
Who has seen such things?
Shall the earth be made to give birth in one day?
Or shall a nation be born at once?
For as soon as Zion was in labor,
She gave birth to her children.
9 Shall I bring to the time of birth, and not cause delivery?" says Jehovah.
"Shall I who cause delivery shut up the womb?" says your God.
10 "Rejoice with Jerusalem,
And be glad with her, all you who love her;
Rejoice for joy with her, all you who mourn for her;
11 That you may feed and be satisfied
With the consolation of her bosom,
That you may drink deeply and be delighted
With the abundance of her glory."
12 For thus says Jehovah:
"Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river,
And the glory of the Gentiles like a flowing stream.
Then you shall feed;
On her sides shall you be carried,
And be dandled on her knees.
13 As one whom his mother comforts,
So I will comfort you;
And you shall be comforted in Jerusalem."
14 When you see this, your heart shall rejoice,
And your bones shall flourish like grass;
The hand of Jehovah shall be known to his servants,
And his indignation to his enemies.
These same faithful, Jesus calls his sheep, heard the voice of the Son of Man and came to the cross and through it into the church. Then the church spread to the Gentiles so that all the world could be brought into salvation by grace.
For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles – if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you, how that by revelation he made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ), which in other ages was not made known to the Sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to his holy apostles and prophets: that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ through the gospel, of which I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of his power.
So God was bringing, through Christ, a body in which he could include all of humanity both Jew and Gentile, in the church.
This is a fairly simple understanding of the mystery. Since this mystery is God's manifold or many faceted wisdom, there is more to look at.
II ) The mystery involved the eternal and final purposes of God for mankind (our destiny)
The typical relationship that God had with Israel, God was going to provide for all of mankind in a universal community of believers in our relationship to Christ. But that relation to Christ is something more than man had imagined. God's purpose is to bring us to eternal glory with Christ.
This is also the mystery revealed in the gospel. Again let us look at:
I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of his body, which is the assembly, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God which was given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God, the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to his saints.
To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.
To this end I also labor, striving according to his working which works in me mightily.
This expectation of glory is united in the verse with the concept of Christ in us. That is the hope of glory. And that is where in lies a deep part of the mystery. That it is through Christ's life that we have life and through his glory that we share his glory. It is through his abiding presence in the Spirit that we take unto ourselves his likeness and by belief of the truth are transformed and grow into his likeness.
For if what is passing away was glorious, that which stays is much more glorious.
Therefore, since we have such hope, we use great boldness of speech – unlike Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel could not gaze intently at the end result of what was being done away.
But their minds were hardened. For until the present day the same veil remains unlifted on the reading of the Old Covenant, which veil is being taken away in Christ. But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.
Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image, forth from glory unto glory, just as forth from the Lord the Spirit.
This is a function of the church to form us into his image.
And he himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into him who is the head – Christ – from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.
This image of Christ in us is what the glory we will receive is all about.
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he foreknew, he also foreordained to be conformed to the image of his son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he foreordained, these he also called; whom he called, these he also justified; and whom he justified, these he also glorified.
III ) There is a fellowship involved with this mystery.
... of which I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of his power.
To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the assembly to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Fellowship means a joint participation, that we all participate and work in and through and for this mystery unveiled - this purpose of God. We are part of the remnant of all ages and we share a common root in Christ and the promises. I think that is what the writer of Hebrews was expressing in chapter 11 when he was describing Old Testament worthies of faith.
They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented – of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they apart from us should not be made perfect.
We are made perfect or complete with them of ages past - by our sharing with them in the fellowship of the mystery of God's ultimate and final purpose for them and for us.
IV ) Applications
1.) That is also where the deepest chords of our fellowship are rooted; in this purpose of God.
For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers, making request if, by some means, now at last I may find a way in the will of God to come to you. For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, so that you may be established – that is, that I may be encouraged together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.
You know James (a member here), he and I can relate on a social level quite easily. We can talk about music, movies, the latest conspiracy theory; we both like computers and weird science. But my satisfaction in knowing James is not found there in the social sphere.
I can have fellowship with Ben (another member) and relate to him on a religious level. He and I can talk about leading singing and announcements, about what it takes to run the congregation decently and in order. But my satisfaction in knowing Ben is not religious.
It is when I can look into the face of my brother and see an understanding dawning and that we both appreciate what God is doing in his eternal purpose and that behind it all is this intense, overwhelming excitement of joy and sharing the same faith - that is where I have the satisfaction of knowing these men. It is the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God. We must not let ourselves get stuck in the social sphere - that's not where it's at. Nor, should we think that what we do in this building is the end of it all. But rather let us see the mystery in each other, that is where the unity of the Spirit is.
2.) Paul wanted Christians to understand the mystery to protect them. It was for their strength.
"Wisdom is the principle thing, therefore get wisdom, and with all your getting, get understanding."
"Counsel is mine and sound wisdom: I am understanding; I have strength."
In the O.T., a prophet might understand a very little of the mystery, but now slaves and maids would know wisdom. The lowliest of the population could now be mature sons of God, walking in the stature of Christ himself. The whole congregation of God's people can ultimately be that way - every single member, knowledgeable in the truth of God's word, handling the deep things of God as a matter of course.
There is a time in which we should mature (Heb. 5:12) and teach rather than be taught. When we exercise ourselves in thinking about and talking about the doctrine of Christ - what we believe and why we believe it, then the lowliest of us all, can take hold and handle, the most exalted truths that God in his purpose has revealed, as their daily fare.
Understanding what we believe is our strength. It does not take a great intellect to see Jesus. Nor does it take a mighty intellect to comprehend the exalted concepts of the final purposes of God. All it takes is child-like faith and trust to believe all that God has said.
Faith gives us the ability to see. And in response, God opens the eyes of our understanding through the Spirit, so that we can see the length and breadth and depth and height.
We present ourselves as living sacrifices to God and then Jesus pours into us his life.
~ Invitation ~