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Ephesians 1:3-14

The Mystery of God’s Will

Ephesians 1 poses a significant theological problem. Initially it seems that many of the words and phrases of the passage support a Reformed tradition’s point of view.

4 “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world”

5 “He predestined us for adoption to sonship”

11 “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will”

At first glance, then, it seems that this passage could be an essential Reformed text strongly supporting the Calvinist doctrines of predestination and unconditional election. On further examination of the passage though, a different theological tradition begins to speak, one that poses quite a different view, which is also problematic to us.

One window through which we can view the letter to the Ephesians is through the word “mystery.” μυστήριον.[1] The word appears first in verse 9 and is repeated multiple times throughout the letter.

I love a good mystery, don’t you? A good mystery draws the reader into a narrative that encourages them to imagine the various possible outcomes. With the data provided, the reader does not really know where the story will end up and how the mystery will be solved. The author guides the reader on a journey of revelation which eventually solves the original mystery.

So what is the mystery spoken of in Ephesians? Verse 9 identifies the mystery as God’s will. But the mystery Paul talks about in Ephesians 1 is not a typical mystery because the end of the mystery is quite clearly stated in verse 10. The fulfillment of the mystery of God is “to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.” God’s plan is that all things will come under the Lordship of Christ.

This is similar to the Philippians 2:10-11; “that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord..” These verses suggest a universal acknowledgment of the Lordship of Jesus Christ. But in Ephesians 1, Paul’s understanding of the fulfillment of God’s will goes even further. The words “all things” in verse 10 challenges the Reformed understanding of Ephesians 1, and opens up a new challenge from a different theological camp.

The theology of the Orthodox Church envisions the redemption of “all things.” The incarnation of Jesus Christ ensures this as the only possible outcome. Like turning on a bright light in a dark room, the holy presence of God, the Son, enfleshed in the physical, material world will inevitably result in the complete redemption of all people and things. It is the only logical conclusion. The creator is greater than the creation, the holiness of God is far greater than the sinful, fallenness of the creation. The holiness of God, now brought inside the material world, will completely overcome and dispel the sin in the physical world. Because Jesus came in the flesh, all of creation will be redeemed. Indeed, all things in heaven and on earth will be brought under Christ. This is the mystery of God’s will that Paul was speaking of in Ephesians 1.

So in Ephesians 1, the end of the mystery of God’s will is made quite clear in verse 10. The real mystery is how we arrive at that end vision from where we are now. Paul unfolds that mystery in chapters 2 and 3.

The first step is making those who are dead in transgressions and sins to be alive in Christ (2:1-10). Then those who are far away are brought near in Christ (2:13). The barrier wall of hostility is destroyed (2:14). One new humanity is made out the two, both reconciled to God through the cross (2:15-16). Foreigners and aliens become fellow citizens (2:19). The Gentiles are heirs together with Israel (3:6).

In short then, how do we arrive from where we are now to the final realization of the mystery of God’s will? The answer is simply the church, we who have been formed into the body of Christ. Ephesians 4 gives a beautiful and extensive vision of ecclesiology, which is beyond the scope of this article. The remaining chapters instructs the church on how to live as the body of Christ.

So to be the church is to be on the journey to fulfill the mystery of God’s will. It is our calling. Our role is to be the physical body of Christ to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. This is beyond political progress or national identity. The church has a new identity and a new mission in the world; we are the body of Christ bringing everything in heaven and on earth together under the Lordship of Christ.

Questions for Reflection and Sermon Preparation

  1. How can our lives in Christ turn on a bright light in the dark world around us?

  2. How well are we as the church participating in the mystery of God’s will? Where can we step more fulling into this task?

  3. How are we bringing those who are far away nearer to God?

  4. How can we be more usable in the hands of God to accomplish his will? [1] “Genesis 1,” Bible Hub, Greek Concordance, accessed Dec. 10, 2019, https://biblehub.com/greek/myste_rion_3466.htm