Dr. William R. Newell, while a professor at the Moody Bible Institute, wrote (1925) concerning our text, calling it “a hallelujah chorus for all saints, to celebrate the character of the marvelous revelation called the gospel which belongs to this dispensation.” It is indeed a glorious doxology to the Epistle to the Romans! However, it is more than that; it is a criteria by which every believer is to build his life in this Dispensation of Grace.
There are three great builders identified in the Bible who have been entrusted with the “blueprints” for God’s building project: Moses, Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul. It is Paul, who, in our text, clearly identifies the blueprints, materials, and foundation for the next phase of construction to be done by present-day believers. (See my tract, “Building with Paul.”)
This construction is built from “blueprints” that are distinctively different from those Moses followed or from those that Jesus Christ will follow when He builds His “Church” (Mt. 16:18) in the Millennium. Paul’s building (Eph. 1:23; 5:30), and building materials are radically new – never heard of or even dreamed of before (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 3:28; Eph. 2:15-16), and placed in the heavenlies next to the throne of God (Eph. 2:6; Phil. 3:20).
Concerning the construction process during this Dispensation of Grace, the Apostle Paul says it is to be done:
“According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try everyman’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire” (1 Cor. 3:10-15).
The Greek word, Kata, translated here in our text, “according to,” is a preposition of norm and standard. In other words, Paul is saying that the construction must be according to the building code (norm and standard). There are four great criteria for building on this foundation. They are:
- “My Gospel”
- “The Preaching of Jesus Christ”
- “The Mystery”
- “The Commandment”
Our lives, built according to these standards, upon this kind of bedrock, will stand the test of time and eternity. The established believer will not be “tossed to and fro, and carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:4), nor will he suffer loss as an unapproved workman (1 Cor. 3:12-15; 2 Tim. 2:15.
The Mystery is not mysterious, but, rather, it is a well-kept secret until it is revealed. Paul, inspired of God, borrows the word used by 5th century B.C. Greeks (Musterion) for their secret societies. Their fraternal secrets remained a secret until after new members were initiated, and then the secrets were revealed to them.
God has secrets. It is the prerogative of our wise, almighty, sovereign God, Who is “a God of gods, and Lord of kings” to be a “revealer of secrets” (Dan. 2:47). These secrets are hidden in God Himself, not the Scriptures.
“O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who hath been His counselor? Or who hath first given to Him, and it shall be recompensed unto Him again? For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to Whom be glory for ever. Amen” (Rom. 11:33-36; cf., Eph. 3:9-10).
Sometimes God reveals His secrets. These are very special and rare times. Example:
In Daniel 2:18-47, we learn that while Israel had known of their favored position in the plan of God (Rom. 9:3-5), their sins had brought them into captivity. They learned a secret, revealed through Daniel for the first time, concerning the “times of the Gentiles” (Lk. 21:24); namely, that the interval between their captivity and the setting up of their promised Kingdom, would be bridged by repeated Gentile dominion over them.
In Matthew 12, Jesus Christ, Israel’s High Priest (vs. 6), Prophet (vs. 41), and King (vs. 42), is rejected by their leaders and the Holy Spirit blasphemed. Immediately following, in Matthew 13, a secret about the Kingdom is revealed (see vss. 11, 35, and Lk. 8:10).
Later, we learn that the “citizens hated Him.” They said, “We will not have this man to reign over us” (Lk. 19:14)! The “multitude” had been persuaded to “destroy Jesus” (Mt. 27:20). They crucified the “King of the Jews” (Mt. 27:37).
After the resurrection of Christ, another gracious opportunity (“Father forgive them” – Lk. 23:34) was given for Israel to receive the King and the Kingdom (Acts 3:18-26). They rejected this by killing Stephen, His appointed messenger (Acts 7:54-58). Immediately following this, the risen Lord Jesus saved Paul (Acts 9:5-6) and called him to be the Apostle of the Gentiles (Acts 9:15; Rom. 11:13; 1 Tim. 2:7; 2 Tim. 1:11) and, subsequently, gave to him the revelation of the Mystery (Rom. 16:25; Gal. 1:11-12; Eph. 3:2-11; Col. 1:24-29; 1 Tim. 1:11; 2:7; 2 Tim. 1:12).
The above-mentioned examples, (1) and (2), are sacred secrets that have to do with God’s purpose for the nation of Israel. Example (3) is the revelation of God’s secret plan for the Church, the Body of Christ. It is the doctrine of what God is doing today!
THE ETERNAL PURPOSE
The Mystery is the “eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 3:11) – meaning, that God planned in eternity past to take Hell-deserving sinners, who were at war with Him and with each other (Jews and Gentiles), and through the blood of Christ remove the mutual hatred. He planned to make peace by joining the warring parties to Christ and to each other, on the basis of grace through faith alone (Eph. 2:8-9), and the baptizing work of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:12-13; Eph. 4:5), thus creating “one new man” (neither Jew or Gentile), “in one Body” – a “joint Body” (Sussomos – gk.), whereby giving them a new identity … (“The Christ” – Christ the Head and believers His Body – 1 Cor. 13:12-13, and a new position – Eph. 2:6!)
ONLY TO PAUL
This Mystery was revealed only to the Apostle Paul. Even the angels knew nothing about it (Eph. 3:10). It remained hidden until revealed to Paul by Christ Himself (see Paul’s emphatic statement: “given me to you-ward” – Eph. 3:2). Paul considered this revelation a “precious deposit” (2 Tim. 1:12-14; 2:2 – entrusted to his stewardship (Oikonomia – gk – Eph. 3:7-9; 1 Cor. 4:1-4; 1 Tim. 1:11-12; 6:20).
The Mystery is “now made manifest” by preaching (Eph. 6:19-20; Acts 15:35-36; Titus 1:3) and by “prophetic writings,” meaning the letters of Paul, wherein, he “wrote afore in few words” – Eph. 3:3).
BY THE HOLY SPIRIT
The Mystery is revealed in a secondary sense by God the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:7-11; 2 Cor. 3:8; Eph. 3:5) to the “holy apostles and prophets (Eph. 3:5 – not the “Twelve”). We are so often weighed down by tradition that we forget that as there were men gifted as prophets and apostles for the Kingdom (Mt. 10:2-7; Acts 1:13, 23-26), even so the ascended Lord Jesus gave the gift of prophet and apostle to men in this Dispensation of Grace (Eph. 4:10-11; 1 Cor. 12:28).
Barnabas (Acts 13:1; 14:4, 14); Andronicus (Rom. 16:7); Anonymous Brethren (2 Cor. 8:23); Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:25); Silas (Acts 15:32); 1 Thess. 1:1, cf., 2:6); Timothy (1 Thess. 1:1, cf., 2:6); Agubus (Acts 11:28; 21:10); Judas (Acts 15:32); Manean and Lucius (Acts 13:1); Apollos (1 Cor. 4:6, 9); Sosthenes (1 Cor. 1:1).
The revelation of the Mystery is found ONLY in the Pauline Epistles. There are, however, gaps in the chronology of Old Testament prophecy where the Dispensation of the Church could have been inserted if the Mystery had been revealed; but it was not. These gaps were, no doubt, a cause of wonder and question to the Old Testament prophets, even as the Apostle Peter reports them questioning the gap between “the sufferings [the cross] of Christ and the glory [the crown] that should follow” (1 Pet. 1:11). This is called the Doctrine of Intercalation (see Lev. 23, between verses 22 and 23; Dan. 9, between vss. 26a and 26b-27; Isa. 61:1-2, between “year of the Lord” – incarnation, and “day of vengeance” – coronation.) Notice where Jesus closed the book: between verses 19 and 20 in Luke Chapter 4.
EVERY TIME the word Mystery is used by Paul, it is referring to this specific revelation and is descriptive of some aspect of it. For example: the following are to be understood as descriptive sub-headings of the Mystery and are all inter-connected.
The Mystery of His will (Eph. 1:8-10; 2:19-22; 1 Cor. 2:1-16; Col. 1:26-2:3. Note: Rev. 10:7 seems to fit here).
The Mystery of the Church (Eph. 5:32; 2 Cor. 5:16; Eph. 3:3-4; cf., 2:13-17).
The Mystery of His Person (Eph. 3:4-6; 2:13-16; 5:32. Note: The whole Book of Colossians addresses this. See: The Mystery of God, Col. 2:2-3).
The Mystery of His Gospel (Eph. 6:19-20).
The Mystery of Iniquity (2 Thess. 2:7).
The Mystery of Transformation and Rapture (1 Cor. 15:51-57; cf., 1 Thess. 4:16).
The Mystery of Gentile Salvation (Rom. 11:11, 13-15; “contrary to nature” – Rom. 11:24).
The Mystery of Israel’s Blindness (Rom. 11:25-26).
The Mystery of the Faith (1 Tim. 3:9).
The Mystery of God (Col. 2:2-3)
The Mystery of the Wisdom of God (1 Cor. 2:7; Eph. 3:9-10).
The Mystery of Heirship (Eph. 3:6-8; “members one of another” – Rom. 12:5; Eph. 4:5).
The Mystery of Godliness (1 Tim. 3:16).
The Mystery of Christ’s Residency (Col. 1:26-27).
The Mystery of Spiritual Riches (“unsearchable” and “untraceable” – See Vine’s and Strong’s Concordances – Col. 1:27; 2:2; Eph. 1:3, 7; 2:7; 3:16).
COMPLETES THE WORD OF GOD
The Mystery completes the Word of God. This great truth of the Mystery closes the Book on God’s revelation of Divine truth to man as to content. Nothing new can be added (“fulfill” = complete – Col. 1:24-25; cf., 2 Tim. 4:17). Things may be further explained or expanded (as in the Circumcision Epistles and the Revelation), but only as a sub-heading of what has already been revealed.
It is common practice in ministry today to ignore any reference to the Mystery. If acknowledged at all, it is usually incorporated into or made to be the fulfillment of what the Old Testament said about Gentile salvation, and a denial that any change has taken place in the program of God. How sad! Such carelessness defies logic. If there had been no change in the program of God, what reason would there have been for the Apostle Paul to say, “follow me” (1 Cor. 4:16; 11:1)? If people could be saved and grow to Christian maturity by following the teachings of Christ and “the Twelve,” according to the four Gospels, why do we need Paul or the Mystery? And, if the Mystery were only a figment of Paul’s imagination, how very foolish it was for him to have suffered in chains and as an evil doer for the sake of it (Eph. 6:19-20; 2 Tim. 2:8-9).