I love mysteries.
A few years ago I read all of Agatha Christie’s mystery novels.
The settings were always exotic:
an English manor house,
a train crossing Europe.
The focus of every story was a murder.
The police were called in, but they followed the wrong clues and failed to solve the case.
Poirot or Miss Marple was often the character who saw all the clues clearly and revealed what had been hidden in plain sight.
The mystery was solved.
I very rarely solved the mystery myself.
I now like to read the novels of Edward Marston, which have the same kinds of twists and turns.
In this third chapter of Ephesians Paul writes of a mystery.
I have an ongoing complaint about this letter to the Ephesians.
Someone, I don’t know who, probably a mischievous goblin sometime in the past, decided to divide this letter as well as the rest of the Bible into chapters and verses.
Very useful for finding your place but it destroyed the flow.
Chapter 3 starts, ‘for this reason’ which makes you think that it should follow on from chapter 2 so you expect that Paul would then tell his readers about some action he proposed.
That doesn’t happen.
When he has used this approach before it was to tell his readers about his prayers for them and it seems he intended to do the same again but he didn’t achieve that until verse 14.
Instead, Paul wandered off into a reminder of what he was about.
Although at first sight it seems that Paul is reminding the Ephesians of the gospel message it reads very well as a defence of Paul’s position as an apostle and appointed missionary.
I think the trigger for this digression was the phrase ‘Prisoner of Christ Jesus.’
In one way it was true that Paul was a prisoner in prison although it was probably more like house arrest.
It had been the Jewish opposition to his mission to the Gentiles that had led to his trials and eventual journey to Rome and imprisonment.
Paul wrote about the mystery revealed to him.
Mystery here is not the same as those in Agatha Christie’s novels.
This use of the word here refers to truths which we know but may nor fully understand.
I referred to these a few weeks back when we talked abut the way baptism and communion are mysteries of faith and how we recognise the trinity but don’t understand it.
Here the mystery that Paul was talking about was that, contrary to what the Jews believed, Gentiles and Jews were now as one through the life and death of Jesus.
He used the terms heirs together,
members together of one body and
sharers together of the same promise.
Echoes of this appeared in other parts of Paul’s letters.
‘There are no longer Greek or Jew, male or female, slaves or free.
We are all one in Jesus.’
Paul says it was revealed specially to him.
He doesn’t say how.
But he may have been referring to the Damascus Road experience.
It had also been revealed to the apostles and prophets by the Holy Spirit and then to the saints, which is Paul’s way of saying the rest of the followers of Jesus.
What was completely new about this was that it removed the idea that the Jews and the Jews alone were God’s chosen people.
This was a new community with everyone equal.
It would probably have taken Paul, himself, a little while to get used to this bombshell.
He had been a Jew who was totally prejudiced against non-Jews and followers of Jesus in particular.
In verse 7, Paul went on to say that this mystery of the Gospel had been given to him so that he could pass it on to the Gentiles.
I love his use of his saying that he was less than the least.
You can’t be less than the least.
That is obviously impossible.
I wondered if he was making a joke.
Paulus, as you all know, is Latin for little.
Was he saying little by name and little by nature?
He may have been referring to how bad he used to be when he went around belittling and insulting Jesus and his followers.
In the next verses, 8 ands 9, Paul outlines how he saw his function.
To tell everybody the good news
and to make sure everyone knew the relevance of it.
A little difficult for us in the 21st century.
Rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.
This may refer to those who worked for evil.
In Paul’s time it was common thinking that booth good and evil powers were residing in the same place above the earth.
But Paul is making it clear that God’s purpose would be made known to all.
What do I get from this rather complicated passage?
I think it emphasises the importance of the church as a community.
Some Christians would like you to believe that faith consists entirely of a personal relationship with Jesus and has nothing to do with the church.
Others make a reluctant acknowledgement to the need to be a member of the church.
The church has many faults, especially when it tries to hang on to centuries old traditions.
Every Christian community is in need of renewal and reform in its own time.
It needs to be central to Christian living in the community.
That means it must not fall short of the ideals for the new all-inclusive society which Paul stresses.
Whether that is getting rid of mechanical, meaningless worship or fellowship which is icy cold.
We must not be inward looking to the extent that we become indifferent to the world outside.
Paul stresses that we must keep God’s vision for a new society as his family before us.
Our worship will then become more authentic,
its fellowship more caring and its outreach more compassionate.
I think that is what Paul, rather obtusely, was getting at.
We’ll now allow him to get back to his prayer.