By Prem Lee
In Ephesians 3:1-13 Paul speaks of a mystery that was revealed to him by God. What is this mystery?
The passage begins with the statement ‘For this reason”. What was the reason? We find it in the end of Chapter 2 where it says, that the Gentiles are no longer strangers and aliens but are fellow citizens in the kingdom of God (Eph 2:19-22). Because of this reality, Paul is a prisoner as the Gentiles have been included in the kingdom of God, and Paul has been asked to preach the gospel to the Gentiles.
The mystery was made known by God to Paul. What was this mystery? That the plan of God included the Gentiles in the kingdom of God. That was the mystery revealed to God. It was not a new revelation, since hints of this are there right through the Old Testament. But how this fitted into the general plan of God, and the creation of a new kingdom apart from the nation of Israel was what Paul has been given.
How did Paul get this revelation? It began on the Damascus Road where the word was given to Ananias that Paul was chosen to preach to the Gentiles. Soon after Paul’s interaction with Ananias he goes to Arabia to spend time alone with God and to sort out his ideas (Gal 1:16f). Here he probably analyses all the Old Testament verses on the Gentiles like Genesis 12:3, Is 60:3 etc. He had been a Pharisee with very strong views on the Jewish nation. He now had to rethink his understanding and come up with a new understanding, where it is no longer the Jewish nation but the Gentile church as the kingdom of God. This was the mystery that was revealed to Paul in his retreat in Arabia.
What takes Paul aback in all this was why he, the least of the members of the church, was selected for this revelation. That was the real mystery, though it is not what Paul is referring to as a mystery. He was given the responsibility of not only preaching to the Gentiles but also to make aware to the church this new dispensation of God, and understand their responsibility in developing this in the practice of the church.
Though Paul suffers in pushing this agenda of responsibility given to him, he asks the people to rejoice that God’s agenda is being developed and completed.
What does this mean for us? Psalms 139:16-19 says that God created us specially for His purpose. Note Ps 139:16 which says that God has a plan for us even before we are born. Paul repeats the same idea in Eph 2:10, where he says God has purpose for each and every one of us, however weak or unworthy was may seem. There is a portion of the gospel that no one else will experience apart from you, in a manner that only you can experience because of your unique background and upbringing. Let this not get lost by neglect, but see how you can nurture the seed which is available with you and develop it into a blessing for many. Do not worry about how improbable it may look now, just let the seed grow. This is God’s call for you. That is the mystery revealed to you.
So what should I do? Find your Arabia. Paul went in to a retreat to think things through and understand what it was that God was teaching him. God has given you an unique insight into the gospel. Spend time in a retreat to think through your ideas. In fact I recommend an annual retreat to keep up to date with what God is teaching you, so that you can be a blessing to others. There are many places available in India for doing such a retreat, if your home is not a viable option. There are retreat centres like Satal Ashram in Nainital, and Christian centres in Ooty, Kotagiri and Coonnoor.
Our calling from God is unique. It has nothing to do with what we would like to do or what we enjoy, but with what God has revealed to us. You will enjoy it and will be surprised at what God is doing, just as Paul was amazed at what God was doing through him.
Do not worry about your ability to fulfil what God has in mind for you. It is His work and not yours. This is the second mystery, which Paul does not call a mystery, but I do. Are you willing to come with God on His roller coaster ride?
You may find this song meaningful - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0VWIpHq1Ctc