A Commentary by John Stott
Ephesians 3:9. b). Making known the mystery to all men.
The second part or stage of Paul’s privileged ministry he expresses in these terms: *to make all men see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things*. Verse 9 does not simply repeat verse 8. There are three significant differences.
First, the preaching of the gospel is now defined not as *euangelizo* (to ‘announce good news’) but as *photizo* (to ‘enlighten’). Paul has already used the verb in his prayer in 1:18. So the thought shifts from the content of the message (good news) to the condition of those to whom it is proclaimed (in the darkness of ignorance). Jesus himself had characterized Paul’s commission in these terms, since he told him he was sending him to the Gentiles ‘to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God’. (Acts 26:17-18). Paul never forgot this. His own conversion on the road to Damascus had resulted from the bright shining of a light from heaven, not just externally but internally. As he put it later: ‘It is the God who said “Let light shine out of darkness” who has shone in our hearts’ (2 Cor. 4:6). Indeed, *photismos* is the word he uses there to describe his ‘enlightenment’ involved in his conversion. We ourselves must always remember in our evangelism that ‘the prince of darkness’ holds men and women in darkness, and that only by a divine enlightenment will their eyes be opened to see. Our responsibility is to be faithful in spreading the gospel, since this is the means which God has ordained by which to bring light to those in darkness.
A second difference between verse 8 and verse 9 lies in Paul’s description of his message. In verse 8 he calls it *the unsearchable riches of Christ*, in verse 9 *the plan of the mystery*. These are not just divergent expressions for the same thing; again they indicate a shift in emphasis. One may say that Christ’s ‘unsearchable riches’ is the broader of the two concepts. It embraces Christ’s remedy for the two Gentile alienations (from God and from Israel) and therefore the totality of his salvation. The ‘mystery’ concentrates on only one of the two reconciliations. True, the mystery is ‘the mystery of Christ’; it centres on Christ. But what it declares about Christ is that through him and in him Jews and Gentiles are incorporated on equal terms in the same single community. Let me point the difference more sharply in this way: according to verse 8 Paul’s message was Christ, according to verse 9 it was the church.
The third difference between verses 8 and 9 is that Paul directs his ministry in the former verse to *the Gentiles*, and in the latter to *all men*. This was necessary because the mystery concerned both Jews and Gentiles. It was a message of mutual reconciliation and of joint membership in God’s new society, which was also the new humanity he was creating. Perhaps this is the reason why in verse 9 Paul describes God as the One *who created all things*. He who created the universe has now begun a new creation and will one day finish it. Indeed, the ‘mystery’ includes the great promise that finally God will unite all things in and under Christ (1:9-10). So in verse 9 Paul brings creation and redemption together in his mind. The God who created all things in the beginning will recreate all things in the end.
Tomorrow: Ephesians 3:10. c). Making known God’s wisdom to the cosmic powers.
|The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Ephesians. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.|