The Mystery of the Gospel

The Vine

Paul did well at encouraging his fellow Christians with reminders of all the spiritual blessings with which God has blessed them in Christ, praying they might be able to understand the greatness of the salvation they obtained in Christ, the head of the church (Ephesians 1:1-23). Paul explained the nature of that salvation, how all had sinned and yet God showed love, grace, and mercy through Jesus to provide a means of salvation so Christians could be full of good works (Ephesians 2:1-10). Paul made it known how this salvation was offered to Gentiles, those of the nations: the hostility which had existed between the people of God and the nations was killed by Jesus on the cross, and He can now make all into one man in one body (Ephesians 2:11-18). Anyone can now be a fellow-citizen of the household of God and become part of the holy temple of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:19-22).

On account of these great blessings and salvation, Paul would again pray on behalf of his fellow Christians, but not until he explained the mystery of the Gospel regarding which he had already made many allusions (Ephesians 3:1-13). Paul envisioned his current imprisonment as a benefit for the Christians to whom he wrote, for it is to their glory (Ephesians 3:1, 13); he is imprisoned for his work in proclaiming among the Gentiles the mystery which God revealed to him, something not made known to previous generations of God’s people but now manifested in what God has accomplished in Jesus (Ephesians 3:1-5). It is easy to think of “mystery” in terms of either a “whodunit,” a crime story in which a sleuth uses all the clues to ascertain and indict the criminal, or something vague, unknown, and unknowable, yet Paul came out with a full explanation of this mystery: Gentiles can be fellow heirs, fellow members, and fellow partakers in the body and promises of Christ (Ephesians 3:6). It is not as if this mystery came without any warning or previous information: all of what Jesus accomplished had been prophesied in the Law, the Writings, and the Prophets (Luke 24:44). Yet the hand of God is evident in the story of Jesus, for while all He did was prophesied, people would not of their own invention or volition put the story together the way in which it came to pass in Christ. Thus the mystery of the Gospel was unveiled in the work which God accomplished in Jesus and communicated by the Spirit (Ephesians 3:1-6)!

Paul proclaimed the Gospel among the Gentiles by the commission of God in Christ who saved him despite his unworthiness, having been a persecutor of the church (Ephesians 3:7-8; cf. 1 Timothy 1:12-16). God hid this mystery prepared before the beginning of the world until the time of Christ, and now not only can all men hear and see it, but the manifold wisdom of God as manifest in the church is displayed to all the powers and principalities of heaven (Ephesians 3:9-10). The wisdom of God manifest in the church was the eternal purpose He established in Christ, through whom we now have boldness and access in faith to God (Ephesians 3:11-12). An eternal purpose continues perpetually in at least one direction; therefore, God’s purposes in Christ remain as active today as they did when the Lord Jesus arose and the Apostles walked the earth. Furthermore, Paul established the high level of importance God places on the church: it is no mere accident, “Plan B,” or holding pattern, but the ultimate realization of His wisdom. The church represents many groups of people who otherwise would be at odds with each other but have become one body in Jesus, and that is a powerful testimony to the working of God in Christ to all the powers and principalities which have worked to keep mankind divided. Thanks to Jesus we can have boldness before God in access in faith; we do not deserve any standing before God because of what we have done, but Jesus’ sacrifice cleanses us and allows us to stand before God and make our requests known.

Paul then got around to making the prayer which he planned on making: that God would strengthen the Christians with power through His Spirit in their souls to comprehend the love of Christ which is beyond knowledge, having been filled with Christ and the fullness of God and rooted and grounded in love (Ephesians 3:14-19). Paul praised God as the One able to do beyond what Christians could ask or think according to the power at work within them, seeking that He might be glorified in Christ and the church for eternity (Ephesians 3:20-21). This prayer may seem confusing: how can Christians come to any kind of understanding of something that surpasses knowledge? This is precisely Paul’s point; he wished for Christians to realize the vastness of God’s love for us in Christ and to be continually humbled by and thankful for it. Paul also invited Christians to consider the greatness of that power of God: He is able to do anything beyond our imagination, and does so by the power at work within us, but only if we ask. Do we ask to obtain that power from God to accomplish His purposes? Do we limit what God is able to do through us because of a lack of imagination or willingness to ask for mighty things to be accomplished? Do we truly believe that God is as willing to do such things as we profess confidence in His ability to do so?

Paul thus laid out the mystery of God in Christ: Jesus lived, died, and was raised again in power, and now serves as Lord. All have sinned but can find salvation in Jesus; in Jesus can be found spiritual blessings beyond imagination, and God is at work advancing His purposes in Jesus and the church in full display before the powers and principalities in the heavenly places. May we submit to the Lord Jesus Christ and trust in God and His power to accomplish great things through us to His glory and honor!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Love

The Vine

“Love is all you need.” So spoke some of the “prophets” of our day, and they were right. We could be very wealthy, but if we were not loved by anyone, we would feel hollow and empty. But if we love and are loved, even if we have very few earthly possessions to our name, we can be happy and content. In fact, long ago, a man named Paul said something quite similar:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3 ESV).

Paul understood how love was more important than anything else. No amount of wisdom, understanding, or power would have any value if he did not have love.

We can understand life in terms of the pursuit of love and being loved. From the womb we want to be loved by our parents. We grow up and look for that special someone who will love us unconditionally as we love them. We want to be surrounded by people who care about us and for whom we care deeply as well.

But if love is so fundamental and basic to our existence, why do we struggle to love and be loved like we should? Why is there so little love around? Part of our problem is how we understand what love is. In the Bible, Paul provides an excellent definition of what love really involves:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a ESV).

As we know from experience, receiving true love is a beautiful and wonderful thing. We like it when people are patient with us and kind toward us. Yet we often find it difficult to express to others those same benefits, especially when we do not like them very much.

Such is why true love is not an emotion or a feeling. Love is a decision impacting the way we think, feel, and act. Feelings come and go; love endures all things. Emotions can sway back and forth, up and down, hot and cold; love is not irritable or resentful. Love springs forth from the active decision to love.

But if we are to love, we cannot insist on our own way or desire. True love involves seeking the best interest of the one we love even if it costs us greatly. Love, therefore, must be sacrificial: we must suffer loss for the one whom we love. It might be our time, energy, devotion, care, resources, or a number of other things. Love can never truly be about us; it must be about the ones we love.

And yet even if love is about the best interest of the one loved, such love cannot compel or coerce. We might think we know the best interest of the ones we love, but they may not see it that way. Love is not rude or arrogant; we cannot truly love while forcing people to act as we think they should. This does not mean that love comes without any standards; love rejoices with the truth, and cannot rejoice at wrongdoing. Love cannot compel or coerce, but love cannot enable bad thoughts, attitudes, or behaviors, either.

To love is to hope and trust: we seek the best interest of others, and in so doing hope that others will seek our best interest as well. True, self-sacrificial love is difficult enough to provide to others when we exist within a loving and caring environment; it is far more difficult when we do not feel loved in return. Nevertheless, love cannot force, since it does not insist on its own way. We must have confidence in love as the best way forward even though we will assuredly experience rejection and pain because we have dared to love. We must cherish our confidence that it is better to love others with the hope of being loved, risking the rejection or pain that comes along with it, than it is to be unloving and to miss out on the greatest blessings of life we find in love.

We humans easily slip into selfishness, inertia, and fear. We think it easier to just take care of ourselves. Despite good intentions toward others, we do not actually put the effort into seeking their best interest. We are afraid of investing our energies and resources into other people because we are not guaranteed good will and similar benefits in return.

But is such a life really worth living? What would our lives be like if no one had ever loved us? What if no one invested their energies or resources into us? We would not be here; we would have starved as infants!

But why is love so important? We are made to love and for love because the God who made us is love (1 John 4:8). God created all things and cares for all things because He loves them (1 John 4:7). No one has ever deserved or earned God’s love; God freely loves us despite our rebellion against Him and His purposes (Romans 5:6-11, 8:7-8). As God, He has control over all things, and can do as He wishes; He has no need for mankind, and yet He loves us and cares for us, seeking our best interest, willing to give of His Son for our sins (Romans 5:6-11, 8:31-32)! God has made it clear in Scripture what is our best interest–to follow the way of truth versus the ways of unrighteousness– and we will all be held accountable for our thoughts, words, and deeds one day (cf. Acts 17:30-31, 2 Timothy 3:16-17). Yet God has never forced anyone to serve Him or seek after His purposes.

What shall we do? Will we put our trust in God and the power of His love, or will we shrink back in our fears? Are we bold enough to hope in the redeeming power of love to heal our own brokenness and the brokenness of others? God has loved us, having made us in love and to love. We do well to love God and love others in return, even if they do not love us, trusting that the way of love is always better than the way of indifference, selfishness, and fear. Join us at The Word Bible Study as we seek to learn more about God’s love and how we can best love one another, and let us work together to praise God for His love!

The Vine

The Vine is designed to strengthen and build you up spiritually, giving you something to think about and apply to your life and your relationship with God and others. It is a publication of the Venice church of Christ, published monthly while school is in session.