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Proper 10B 2nd Reading

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If you like a good mystery, Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is for you. The Greek noun μυστήριον (mystērion), translated as “mystery” or “secret” in most English versions is found 6 times in the epistle. There are actually sub-mysteries within a larger, overall mystery spanning across the entire letter to the Ephesians. Ephesians 1 introduces the larger mystery and provides a way of approaching the rest of the letter.

The first occurrence of μυστήριον is found in 1:9, and refers to “the mystery of [God’s] will.” What is God really doing in the world? What is the purpose of His will? Unlike most mysteries, the ending to the Ephesian mystery is not unknown. On the contrary, it is clearly stated in the very next verse (v.10); the culmination of God’s mysterious will is “to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.” This is where the activity of God in our world is heading. It will happen. The mystery then, is how we get from the reality of what we see and experience now to the clearly stated vision in v. 10 of unity under the headship of Christ. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians unfolds the revelation of that mystery.

While Ephesians 1:9-10 announces the mystery of God’s will and declares its outcome, Ephesians 2 and 3 reveal the progressive steps toward the completion of the mystery. The first step is to be resurrected from the death of our transgressions and sins 2:1 to being made alive in Christ 2:5 through the mercy and grace of God. No progress is able to be made without this complete transformation and re-orientation to Christ in our lives.

As we are brought to new life in Christ, we are then able to be made one with others in Christ. Those who are far are brought near (2:17), foreigners and aliens are made citizens (2:19), and all are made members of God’s household (2:19). This invitation mysteriously extends to Gentiles also who are “heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.” (3:6)

Chapter 4 then divulges God’s plan to achieve the vision of bringing everything in heaven and on earth under the headship of Christ. This mystery is solved with Christ’s formation of the church, which is his body on earth. Christ gifts his “made alive” and “brought together as one” church with roles to prepare others for works of service and the building up of the body of Christ (vrs. 11-12). The unity of the body and the knowledge of the Son of God lead to maturity and fullness in Christ. (v. 13). From this, the body grows up into the Head, which is Christ (v. 15). The mystery is thus solved and the will of God is accomplished.

Ephesians 4:17 – 5:20 goes on to describe how we should live under the new reality of being made alive in Christ. We no longer as the Gentiles in the futility of their thinking (4:17), but as a new self made new in righteousness and holiness (4:24). Ephesians 5:21 – 6:9 continues by describing how we relate to each other being made one in Christ. Submission to one another and love characterize how we relate to one another.

At first glance, the vocabulary of Ephesians 1 may scare away the Wesleyan reader. But as the reader looks further into Paul’s thoughts in chapter 1, the abundant and gracious love of God is clearly expressed through his desire to bring everything in heaven and on earth together under Christ. God’s will is not that of selected inclusion, but rather one which extends to all things in heaven and earth.

Questions for sermon preparation

How are we, the church, participating in the mysterious vision of God to bring all things in heaven and on earth under the headship of Christ?

How do our lives or our presence in the community reflect that we are no longer dead in transgressions and sins but have been made alive in Christ?

How are we being brought together with others as one in Christ?

Where do we see ourselves in the beautiful description of the church in Ephesians 4?

Eastern Europe Field Coordinator,

Church of the Nazarene

About the Contributor

Jay Sunberg

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