Ephesians Study Part 8: The Mystery of God's Will

Review:

Last week as we studied Chapter one verse seven, we focused primarily on God's greatest work; the redemption of man.   Remember that the Greek word translated as "redemption" has the meaning of ransoming someone; paying a price to free one from his condition.  We also focused on the fact that Jesus' last word on the cross was tetelestai, which could be translated as "I have paid your debt in full."

Today's Lesson:

Taking up again with Chapter 1, verse 7, and reading in the NIV:

Here is one of those places where the translation you use makes some difference.   The NIV punctuates the sentence to say that God either:

I would prefer the latter, since I need the wisdom and understanding.

That may all be moot, since the better literal translations of the RSV and the NAS both place a period after the word "us". That ties it to the next verse, verse 9, not to verse 8:

So Paul says that God gave us the wisdom and insight to understand the mystery of his will.

Wisdom:

Let's deal with just what wisdom and insight are.   The Greek word translated as "wisdom" is the word sophia.   All of the translations that I have, translate sophia as "wisdom".   Not a bad name for a woman, I would say.   So there is little debate about using "wisdom" as the translation for sophia.

Insight:

The Greek word translated as "insight" is phronesis.   In contrast to sophia, phronesis is translated variously as "insight" (NRSV, RSV, NAS), prudence (KJV,NKJ,ASV,YLT ), and "understanding" (NIV).   So phronesis is some combination of insight, prudence and understanding.   The Greek dictionary defines phronesis as mental action or activity, i.e., intellectual or moral insight.

The use all these two words is very interesting.   The Greeks wrote a lot about these two words; if a man had both he was considered to be perfectly equipped for life.

Sophia:

Aristotle defined sophia as "knowledge of the most precious things".   The Roman writer, statesman and orator, Cicero, defined it as "knowledge of things both human and divine".   Sophia was a thing of the searching intellect.   Sophia was the answer to the eternal problems of life and death, of God and man, of time in eternity.   Sophia is the knowledge that sees into the heart of things, knows them as they really are.   It is the comprehension of the big picture, grand concepts ultimate truths.

Phronesis

Aristotle defined phronesis as the knowledge of human affairs.   Plutarch (Mestrius Plutarchus) defined it as practical knowledge of the things which concern us.   Cicero defined it as knowledge of the things which are to be sought and the things which are to be avoided.   Plato defined it as the disposition of mind which enables us to judge what things are to be done and what things are not to be done.   Phronesis is the understanding that leads to right action.   In other words, phronesis is the sound sense which enables man to meet and to solve practical problems of everyday life and living.   It's practical knowledge; what to seek and what to avoid; what to do and what not to do.   In my simple world, this is uncommon "common sense."

Paul says:

To me this means that God gave us as believers, when we accepted Jesus, the ability and uncommon "common sense" to understand and comprehend that Jesus is the Son of God and our Savior.   As believers we are able to see this truth, but non believers cannot understand it; they can't see why we would believe this.

As the Greeks understood wisdom and insight, which made a man complete, God made believers complete; able to comprehend the big picture and also to know what to do and what not to do; what to seek and what to avoid.

There are those people who spend their lives thinking about the great thoughts of man, but can't find the keys to the front door.   There are those who are very practical on a day to day basis, but never stop to think about grand concepts, eternity, etc.   Paul says that God created the complete balance in believers, and did it because he wanted to; "From his pleasure."

Through Jesus we have the ability to see the great ultimate truths of eternity, and by understanding this, we have the tools to make day to day decisions; to properly solve the problems of each moment of time.

Not only did he give us this grand perspective.   This perspective then allows us to understand the mystery of God's will.

One of the amazing things that God does for believers is that he shares his plans and purposes with us -- his plans for the Church and the universe -- and for that great goal toward which all history is moving.

It is interesting to read history books by sociologists and psychologists who talk about the great forces that have molded mankind, different dynamics that impact history; sociological dynamics, psychological dynamics and societal trends and so on.   There is only one dynamic forming history; The Plan of God.

Do you realize that only God knows the end from the beginning?   And he shares it with us.   Do you know that the angels don't?   Satan does not.   Maybe that is why he keeps trying.   He does not know enough to give up.

The angels watch us to learn the will of God.   Peter is talking about the prophets who were looking forward to the Messiah:

The angels want to know what God has revealed to us.

Only God knows our hearts.   We often impute those to angels and other celestial beings, including Satan.   We give him far too much credit.   He is not nearly as powerful and all knowing as we give him credit.   We are just such easy targets that he can beat up on us from our weakness; not his strength.

Perspective:

This wisdom and insight that God gives us, gives us the perspective to understand God's will.   The greatest asset in the management of complex topics is perspective, whether in business or theology.

Think about the Book of Job.   What is it about?   Suffering?   I don't think so.   If that is what it is about, ("why do bad things happen to good people"), then the book fails to answer the question.

What is the problem in Job?   Getting the right perspective.   As the readers of Job, we are treated to Chapter 1.   Job was not.   We hear the dialog between God and Satan setting up Job.   Job did not know about that.   He did not have Chapter 1 when he was sitting on the ash heap, losing his family and his wealth and his health.   What was his challenge?   To somehow maintain a divine viewpoint, God's perspective.

The Book of Job is our challenge.   When things are falling around our ears, somehow, we have to understand the divine viewpoint, to call up that wisdom and insight that Jesus brought to us.   That is what Paul is talking about here.

Mystery:

If you had to pick one dominant theme for Ephesians, it would have to be "The mystery of his will."

The word translated as mystery, in the Greek is musterion.   It is a little different from what you and I would think of as a mystery.   In the various translations, it is translated as "mystery" or "secret".   Young's Literal Translation is probably the closest, as "secret".

Musterion means a sacred secret previously unknown but here revealed.   It is the last chapter in a holy mystery.   It is like giving you the password that lets you in the secret door, or into the locked file on your computer.

By the way, there are a lot of mysteries in the New Testament. They include the mystery of:

When you realize that each of these are musterion, sacred secrets previously unknown but here revealed, as you read the New Testament, you can appreciate that the New Testament reveals the mysteries of the Old Testament; the secrets to the hidden mysteries are exposed.

One of the interesting things is that we as believers are called on to be stewards of these mysteries.

We will spend more time on the mystery of the will of God as we progress through Ephesians.

Incomprehensible to non-believers:

There is one more aspect of musterion that we need to understand.   Not only is it something that has long been kept secret and is now revealed, but it is still incomprehensible to the persons who have not been initiated into its meaning.

For example: Imagine bringing a non-believing friend from work with you to a communion service.   To him or her, it would be weird, a confusing mystery; he would not understand in the least what was going on or why, even if he heard the reading of the verses about "the bread is my body" and "the wine is my blood".   But to us as believers, it is not only clear, but very meaningful.   In the New Testament, the mysteries discussed are hidden to the unbeliever but clear to the Christian.

God's Plan includes the Gentiles:

So for Paul, what do you think the "mystery of the Will of God" was?   At the highest the level I think the mystery of God's Will is the salvation of man; the redemption of mankind.   We talked about that last week.   But as Paul was speaking to the new churches in Asia minor in this letter, I think the mystery of the Will of God that Paul had in mind was that salvation and the gospel were open to Gentiles too -- that in bringing Jesus to save mankind, God had revealed his love and care, his grace and mercy, not only for the Jews, but for all of the world.

This is a big deal.   Up until now man had been living in a divided world.   There was the division between the Jew and the Gentile; between the Greek and the barbarians.   All over the world and throughout the history of man there had been strife and tension.   Paul is going to make the point that Jesus came to wipe out all of the division.   That, for Paul, was the secret of God -- that it was God's purpose that all of the different strands and all the warring elements of the world could be gathered into one in Jesus Christ.

Grace, not Works:

The other aspect of the mystery of the Will of God that Paul is apparently talking about, is that in Jesus, salvation was by grace, not by works.   Prior to Jesus, all the teaching had been of following the law and performing the rituals; works.   It was not until the arrival of Jesus that God made it clear that salvation was by grace; an undeserved gift.

This, too, was a big deal; one that is still hard for man to accept.   Man is more comfortable with works and being able to earn his way to heaven.   Paul says that in Jesus, God exposed the secret; that God loves us and wants to forgive us; not for what we do but for our love of his Son.

The other point that Paul makes is that all history had been working out this plan -- that all the ages have simply been arranging and administering things for this day eventually to arrive.   That will be the topic for next week.

Next week:

We will pick up at verse 10 and deal with the effect that God's plan has had on the world.