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The Fellowship of the Mystery

And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ…

—Ephesians 3:9

This fellowship of the mystery that the apostle Paul speaks of here at roughly the midpoint of his epistle to the Ephesians is of great importance to understanding how God is dealing with mankind today.

Before proceeding, it is important here to address a textual issue that has an effect on our understanding of this passage:

  1. Anyone who has read a few or many of the articles on Distinguishing Truth has probably noticed that I use the King James Version almost exclusively.  I said almost exclusively because although I cannot recall from memory any time that I have used another version, there may be a quote that someone might find where he could point out that this is not the case and I would be giving opportunity for someone to call me a liar.
  2. I am not in the strictest sense of the term “King James Only”, but I do stand with those that are in a few important points.  First and most importantly, it is always a bad idea to go to a different translation to make the Bible say what you want it to say when what it actually says is in disagreement with your theological stance.  When I am holding my King James Version in my hand, I am actually holding the Bible in English, and it should correct me.  I am in no place to correct it, and neither are you.  While it is harder and harder to find the translators’ preface to the reader in published versions, it is very eye-opening and everyone who wants to discuss the issue should read that letter and have a reasonable working knowledge of it.  It should also be compared to similar letters in other translations.  If you get nothing else from the letter, you should at least get the strong impression that the translators believed themselves to be handling the Word of God, and if that is your belief, it will show in the way that it is handled.  I can open my King James Version with confidence and say “this is the Word of God”.
  3. In the Received Text, which the translators of the KJV used, the word that is translated “fellowship” in the verse that we are exploring is κοινωνία (koinōnía).  This word is most often translated “fellowship”, but also is translated “communion” and a few other terms related.  Some information on this word can be found here.  In modern Bible versions, you will not see “fellowship”, but you will see “administration”, “plan”, “stewardship”, or, wait for it, wait for it, “dispensation”.  The “critical text”, and even “the majority text” or “Byzantine text” has a different word than that which is in the TR.  The newest modern versions will not use the word dispensation here because, frankly, I think that the translators are allergic to the word.  Many dispensational teachers have jumped on this and began to talk about this as “the dispensation of the mystery”.  Because the Bible that I hold in my hand has the word “fellowship” here, that is how I will discuss it.  That is the first and foremost reason.  The secondary reason that I will speak of it as the “fellowship of the mystery” and not the “dispensation of the mystery” is because the context of the verse demands this to be the case.  Ephesians 2:11 through 3:12 speak of a fellowship that was not the case before God revealed the mystery to Paul.  Jumping on the term dispensation does not help to solidify any dispensational teaching, and we do not want to as a primary cause solidify dispensational teaching.  We want to understand the Word of God, and believing what the Bible says is far more important.  Let us let the Bible be our teacher and let us form our theology (and chisel off the rough spots) from what the Bible says.

The reader is strongly encouraged to very carefully read the above mentioned passage which comes to somewhat of a conclusion at verse 3:9, where the apostle Paul states his cause “to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery”.

In Ephesians 2:12, the apostle talks about the Gentiles, to whom he is writing, being in times past without Christ, aliens from the commonwealth (citizenry) of Israel, strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world.  This is the very opposite of fellowship.  Verse 13 signals a change in God’s dealings with these Gentiles at a point in time:  But now!

There is a point in cause as well:  by the blood of Christ.

The Gentiles, who the apostle was addressing in verse 2:8 and 9 were saved by grace through faith, not of themselves, not of works, but entirely as a gift of God.  This was not due to any covenant promise to them, or because they were in a savable state, but wholly because God in His grace and kindness provided salvation to those dead in trespasses and sins, walking according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, with conversation in the lusts of the flesh (read about them in Romans 1), and by nature children of wrath.

Ephesians 2:11 through 18 is often used to teach “racial reconciliation”, and it indeed does, but there is an important caveat that needs to be understood first and foremost before teaching it.  That caveat is in Christ.  Read Luke 23:12 and Acts 4:23 – 30 to learn what “racial reconciliation” without Christ looks like.

But these verses do teach in an awesome crescendo what the fellowship of the mystery looks like.  First, in verses 11–13, those “outsiders” are made nigh by the blood of Christ.  Next, in verses 14 – 18, there is peace, enmity removed, and those far off, and those nigh are made into “one new man”.

Next, in verses 18 – 22, those strangers and foreigners, i.e., immigrants, become fellowcitizens with the saints.  Notice the prefix “fellow” and remember that we are talking about a fellow-ship.   This is not about nations and immigration policies, this is about those who are in Christ.  Let us not begin to use this to teach what it does not teach, but let us use this to accurately describe what it indeed does teach.  Those who were outsiders now are citizens, and have the full right of citizenship.  In the Acts, Paul on a few occasions let his Roman citizenship be known, because citizenship has rights and privileges, along with responsibilities that are not open to those without it.  This is a fact, and to deny this is foolish, and frankly, denies what the Bible teaches.  Paul brings up his status as a Roman citizen in Acts 16:35 – 40, in 22: 25 – 30, and as a citizen appeals to Caesar.  Paul calls himself a Roman, because he has Roman citizenship.

In verse 19, the Gentile believers are fellowcitizens with the saints.   Do you know what this means?  Think of it in terms of national citizenship.  A foreigner who comes to America is not a citizen, but an immigrant.  There are certain rights protected, and this is a good thing, but there are certain rights and privileges that are only open to citizens, and this is also a good thing.  That same foreigner, who goes through the process to become a citizen (the process can be long and difficult, but many things worth doing are), at the end does become a citizen.  He is now a fellowcitizen.  Do you know what that fellowcitizen is now called?  Not a stranger and foreigner, but an American.

In the same way, the fellowcitizens with the saints, who are now of the household of God, are now saints.  They are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called saints (1 Corinthians 1:2).  That is the fellowship of the mystery.  The next verses, 21 and 22, speak of a building that grows, and a building that is the habitation of God — builded together — a fellowship.

Now, ever so carefully read the next seven verses:

Ephesians 3:1 – 7 — “For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel: Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power.”

Those that deny the distinctive ministry and apostleship of Paul have to deal with these verses.  And they try.  But try they may, they have to minimize the meaning of words or simply ignore them to do so.  Who does the Bible say that the dispensation of the grace of God was given to?  You, reader, answer this question from the text above, and if you need help, try Colossians 1:25.

Would you argue that the oracles of God were committed to the Jews (Israel, by way of Moses and the prophets?).  Read Romans 3:1 & 2.  Would you argue that the law was given by Moses, and that he was entrusted as God’s man to deliver it?  Yes, as John 1:17 says, grace and truth came by Jesus Christ, and no one is arguing that.  It is Jesus Christ that gave this dispensation to Paul to make known the mystery.

Galatians 1:11 – 12 — “But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

In other ages, this mystery of Christ, and the fellowship of the mystery that we are discussing, was indeed not made known.  If it was, Paul is simply lying, because he clearly says it was not.  He also says that it is now revealed, so now it is no longer a mystery, but a revelation.  It is not, as some have taught, something mystical that can only be understood by the initiated, but something that was formerly hidden, but is now revealed.  To whom is it revealed?  To God’s holy apostles and prophets.  How is it revealed?  By the Spirit.  Who reveals this mystery to us?  Paul, apostle of Jesus Christ.  We find this time and condition of God’s dealings with men revealed in the epistles of Paul.  This fellowship of the mystery is something previously hid and now made known.  It does not take special knowledge unavailable to most to understand this.  It only takes reading the Bible and believing what it says.  The mystery is manifest, and it takes disbelief and/or ignorance to not see it.

Ephesians 3:6 is indeed the essence of what the fellowship of the mystery really is:  that the Gentiles should be fellowheirs (read about the inheritance in Ephesians 1), of the same body (1 Corinthians 12:13; Romans 12:5; Ephesians 4:4), and partakers of His promise in Christ.  We, as Gentiles, were strangers to the covenants of promise.  Now we are partakers of His promise, not because of covenants, but by the gospel.

God has an eternal purpose, and this fellowship of the mystery is in accordance with it.  He has a purpose to gather together in one all things in Christ — that in all things He, Christ, might have the preeminence.  Nothing on man’s part, or on the devil’s part, will thwart God’s eternal purpose.  He is now bringing it to pass by the fellowship of the mystery.

If you are not saved by grace through faith in Christ and His finished work of redemption on the cross where He shed His blood for our redemption and forgiveness, you indeed can be.  The step is faith.  You believe what God has revealed, that Christ died for our sins, that He was buried, and that He rose again.  You agree with God about His Son, and He graciously saves you.  That is what salvation by grace through faith is all about.  If you are tempted to doubt, or to bring in things that are outside of what God has revealed in the revelation of the mystery, remember that God has made it known that He is doing something now that is different from what went before.  He is reconciling all who believe in one body by the cross.  When you believe the gospel that Paul delivered in 1 Corinthians 15:1 – 4, you are agreeing with God and exercising “saving faith”.  That is what God has indeed said will save.

1 Corinthians 15:1 – 4 — “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures…” 

Also, dear friends, keep in mind these verses from the end of Acts that came to mind as I was “penning” this:

Acts 27:23 – 25 — “For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, Saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar: and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee. Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me.”

The “Acts record” does not teach history, although it is indeed historically accurate, but theology.  It teaches the revelation of a change in God’s dealings with men, or a “change of dispensation”, and as we get to the end, these words “pop out”.  It will do all well to take these Spirit-inspired words to heart.

God is doing a wonderful thing among the sons of men during this day of salvation.  Do not take this amnesty lightly as though it will last forever.  Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved!

Charles Miller View All

Husband, father, engineer...Enjoys fishing, archery, guitar, running, and lifting, but most of all reading and studying God's Word.

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