A mystery? The mystery of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Whatever could it be? Whenever Paul uses this phrase, he is always talking about how the Kingdom of God is now open to all people off all nations through Christ Jesus. The mystery is that Jesus destroys all divisions and unites all people in the church. And Paul doesn’t see this as some additional teaching or suggestion for good Christian living. Paul recognizes that the end to prejudice and division and the call to complete unity is central the the Gospel message itself. If you deny this call to unity you deny the power of the cross.
In fact, it was this very message of unity and inclusion for Gentiles that landed Paul in the prison that he is now writing this letter from. When he arrived in Jerusalem (Acts 21) he had a fellow believer from Ephesus travelling with him. This Ephesian was named Trophimus. Additionally, some from Asia followed Paul to raise up opposition against him. They did this by starting a rumor…only a rumor that Paul had taken Trophimus into the Temple (against Jewish custom and law). Simply this rumor started a huge riot that had to be broken up by Roman guards. When Paul spoke to the guards in Greek they were impressed and agreed to let him address the crowd. When he spoke to the crowd in Hebrew they were impressed and begin listening to his testimony. Then he says that God send him to Gentiles since Jews wouldn’t listen…and the riot started right back up where it left off. After these rumors about taking an Ephesian into the Temple and Paul’s commitment to preaching the Gospel to people of all races, Paul would spend the rest of his life going from one prison and trial to another. That is how committed Paul was to unifying peoples and nations in the church.
So when Paul writes this letter to the Ephesians he recognizes the history of racial issues that plague this church and community. He needs the Gentiles to feel like insiders and not outsiders. He needs there to be equality of freedom and similar demands placed on people of both groups. He wants everybody to recognize how empowered they are through Jesus. You have power and authority and you completely belong here, so act like it. Or, said differently and like we have been tracking through the blog (and our Sunday morning classes at church) Paul wanted them to recognize the importance of Power, Placement and Purity.
This chapter focuses pretty heavily on power and placement. The mystery Paul speaks of is the uniting of all people in Christ (placement) so that all belong. Then Paul says a lot towards the end about the power and strength that they all have. He isn’t very subtle and should cause us to recognize that the church today is still called to have authority and influence in the world we live in and that we are still called to tear down any barriers which divide people.
Unfortunately, church culture today often promotes people attending churches that are made up almost entirely of people who look, act and think just like they do. We have given up the vision Paul had of a church where every member walked in as a minority in the group because there was so much diversity, but understood themselves to be part of the majority because they were one in Christ and in their love for each other.
This is a huge challenge. It’s not easy. It goes against everything the world says about the walls that divide us. That’s why Paul reminds us that we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength. So go forward courageously loving those you would normally ignore. Change everything.