God's Plan for Human History

Ephesians 3:1-13

by The Rt. Rev. Daniel R. Morse


Is history just a random succession of events, or is there a plan? Is there any point to the events? Are we headed anywhere? Is there a goal, and are we going in the right direction toward that goal? God shows us in this passage that he has a plan, and that it is gracious plan.

I. The Mystery

A.  A mystery in the Bible is not something dark, obscure, or puzzling, but an open secret now proclaimed publicly. It is something that is beyond human discovery, that no human would have devised or discovered, but that has now been revealed by God.

B.  What is it? The truth of which Christ is both the source and the substance. The meaning is given in verse 6, that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel. Three words describe the equality of Jew and Gentile in Jesus Christ. There is a double union with Christ, and with each other.

C.  How is it new? The OT and Jesus spoke of the inclusion of the Gentiles in the Abrahamic covenant, but they did not make clear that the Church would take the place of the Jewish nation, and that Jews and Gentiles would be on equal footing in the Church.

II. The Ministry

A.  In verse 6 St. Paul equates mystery with the Gospel. Mystery is the truth revealed to St. Paul, and the Gospel is the truth proclaimed by St. Paul. The Gospel proclamation announces the mystery. God’s first gift of grace was the mystery, and the second was the ministry exercised by the power of God working in the preachers of the Gospel.

B.  To the Gentiles—verse 8—the mystery was that the Gentiles would be incorporated in Christ, and so the ministry was directed to them. The riches described in Ephesians 1 & 2— new life, enthronement with Christ, reconciliation with God, a new society with the Jews, the end of hostility between Jew and Gentile, and the beginning of peace, access to the Father through Christ and by the Spirit, membership in his household and kingdom, the dwelling place of God among men, and the unsearchable riches of the glory to come—are the truth from God that enriches mankind.

C.  To all men—verse 9—Note the differences from verse 8.

1.  Not evangelize but enlighten

Ephesians 1:18—The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints.

The condition of the recipients is one of the darkness of ignorance. Notice Christ’s commission to St. Paul.

Acts 26:17; 18—I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.

2 Corinthians 4:6—It is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

It is only by divine enlightenment that sinners’ eyes will be opened.

2.  The plan of the mystery—not the unsearchable riches of Christ, but that all will be made one in the Church. This shows us the importance of the visible Church.

3.  To all men and not just the Gentiles. God who created all things now recreates a new society—the Church.

D.  To spiritual powers—verse 10—The mystery was taking shape as a concrete reality—not an abstract idea. The wisdom of God is displayed as the story unfolds. But who are the audience? Spiritual beings, who are not omniscient—who don’t know all things as God does.

1 Peter 1:10-12—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 from heaven— things which angels desire to look into.

They are watching us to find out God’s plan for history.

III. The Centrality of the Church

A.  Christianity is not simply a private, personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Christians don’t put up with the Church as a necessary evil, or view the institutional Church as a hopeless loss. We must be careful not to despise the Church and so become blind to God’s work in history.

B.  The centrality of the Church to history—verse 11—This is the outworking of God’s eternal purpose (v. 9). God’s plan is the creation of a new humanity in Jesus Christ, which makes the Church the center of history. History is not about battles, dates when important laws were passed, or who was king or queen when a certain thing happened. Rather it is God’s story about how he is at work moving from his eternal plan to the climax at the end of time, and the focus of that is Christ and his Church. Secular history concentrates on VIP’s, but the Bible concentrates on the saints, that is on Christians. Secular history concentrates on wars, and the Bible concentrates on the war between good and evil. God’s promise that is over all of history is, “I will be their God, and they will be my people.”

C.  The centrality of the Church to the Gospel—verse 12—The modern gospel is too individualistic—“Just me, my Bible, and Jesus; Christ died for me, O, that will be glory for me.” But that is far from the full Gospel, which is the good news that God is making a new society, a new family, a whole new creation—the Church.

D.  The centrality of the Church to Christian living—verse 13—St. Paul’s sufferings would bring them glory. He suffered for the Church. Can we be irresponsible church members? Every member is responsible for worship, fellowship, and outreach, not only the minister. That is the meaning of the Lord’s Supper.