Paul presents us with a passage of profound paradox. He addresses the disclosure of eternal mystery in Jesus Christ in a way that highlights the lofty and central eminence of the Son of God. At the same time he asserts that the most exalted knowledge possible is only divulged to the lowly. We therefore notice the “highs and lows” of Holy Scripture. The science of reality resides in God and the sight of that reality is granted to the one that abides in him – God’s hidden secret that no creature, human or angelic, could ever find or fathom. That to which the apostle refers has been locked in the depths of the divine heart and it is only made known in Jesus Christ, and his cross is the key that opens the mystery. Transfixed by the cross of Jesus we are transported to the centre of the divine nature.
Paul speaks of a wonder toward which we have become blasé, but to the Jewish people it came like a bombshell shattering their sense of exceptionalism and entitlement. Election in its ultimate sense is not ethnically based. God’s salvation embraces Jew and Gentile alike on equal terms – the level plane of the gospel. “This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus” (v6). Paul is able to break the divine silence on the magnitude of grace (yet the clues were there in his predecessors the prophets).
Unmerited mercy was to be directed toward the whole of mankind, the wondrous flow of the free favour of God pledged to faith in the Redeemer of the world. There was to be good fortune in store for our race at the decision and discretion of God who would exercise his sovereign prerogative.
The mystery is not a puzzle to solve. It is the unsearchable wisdom and will of God beyond human capacity to trace or track by reason or intuition. It is of necessity a matter of revelation. It is the divine donation of insight into the genius of God – the solution to the problem of human sin, intransigence in evil self-will, and hostile alienation from God.
The divine plan of restoration and reconciliation is a multi-faceted purpose held together and presented in the promise of Christ for our rescue and reinstatement to divine approval. It is so beautifully varied, diverse, and expansive that it comprehends unsearchable riches for the redeemed that we can never button down or exhaust in our discoveries and understanding. God has reserved a mega-universe of good things for his loved ones beyond enumeration and any conceivable measure.
The mystery plunges us into the infinitude of the divine mind, action, and boundless generosity. It is the introduction to the pluralities contained within the divine perfection – qualities, characteristics, attributes, powers, all governed and guided by the manifold wisdom of God manifested in his glorious accomplishments. We will never arrive at an expiry date concerning our survey and enjoyment of the lavish goodness, ingenuity, and felt affection of the Lord. “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (vv17-19).
Within the limits of human expression Paul is declaring that there are no dimensions applicable to the divine treasure trove that he will outpour upon us. Our possession of Christ here and now means that our prospects are inconceivable. We are participants in the exhibition of the deepest truths of God, the highest privileges he can afford to mere creatures, and we are sustained in this condition by his inestimable power. How shall we ever appreciate that omnipotence is on our side for our eternal welfare?
The revelation of the secret from God’s heart to ours brings us to the ascent of an ever-soaring summit of the knowledge of God’s worth and extraordinary ways. The method of his grace evokes our endless praise. By this means he answers our plea: Open our lips, O Lord. The desire of the elect is to extol the Lord with his enablement.
Our hunger for heaven is honed by the mental display of the riches that are ours as intimated in the unfathomable Word. We cannot grasp or contain all that is promised. Heaven pledges extravagance. We are raised to the clime of the sublime.
Even angels have not attained such bounteous blessing. They can never probe the wisdom of God to the extent that we may. It has been suggested that the people of God are an educational tool for the heavenly hosts and the denizens of the celestial and spirit realms. “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms” (v10). These glorious creatures observe us in our union with Christ and learn.
And it is at this point that we notice the Pauline paradox. This divine largesse is lavished upon the lowly – the very low who have been lifted from the self-imposed slough of sin. Those instrumental in raising them by the gospel are equally low. They came from the same pit through divine deliverance and they serve as ministers of grace, or as Paul states, mere table waiters. Ministry is not a matter of status. There is nothing equivalent to the Oscars in Christian service whatever accomplishments or adornments a person may have.
The precious knowledge of Christ is spread by the whole church and not by specialists alone who are tempted to vie for academic and ecclesiastical pre-eminence – his little ones perform the great task. God has no dependence upon human greatness (1 Corinthians 1:20-31). The church often pursues greatness and grandeur, but it is in its weakness that it wins the world for it exists to evidence the power of God (2 Corinthians 12: 1-10). Believers do not have to claw their way to the top as is the manner of the world. The lowly are exalted by God’s grace (Luke 1:46ff).
Riches for wretches is the gist of Paul’s message.
Access to God for the lowly and humble is accomplished by Christ. “In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence” (v12).