The Administration of the Ministry
To the Editor of Scripture Truth:
Various thoughts have been expressed as to the interpretation of some verses in Ephesians 3. I only propose to consider two points, in the hope that others may either correct or confirm the thoughts expressed. Is there any present administration of the mystery? Is the “now” of verse 10 applicable during the present Christian period?
The general bearing of the passage seems clear. The grace of God (vv. 2, 7-8) had bestowed a special administration (it is really the same word “oikonomia,” in verses 2 and 9) on the apostle in connection both with the gospel and the church (see also 1 Cor. 9:17 and Col. 1:23, 25). The same double ministry is referred to in Romans 16:25, and its scope on the evangelic side is described in verses 7 and 8 of Ephesians 3, and what a scope it is! To preach as glad tidings among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, riches perfectly adapted not only to meet the need of man, however great, but to lay a foundation on which all the purposes of God could be brought to pass.
But in verse 10 another subject is introduced, the assembly; and the apostle tells us it was his object to enlighten all with the knowledge of what is the administration of the mystery, that is as it has been well expressed, “not only the counsel of God but the accomplishment of that counsel in time, by bringing the assembly together under Christ its Head.” That a special place of priority was given to Paul in this Service is unquestionable, but if his object be as stated the bringing together the assembly under its Head, the very same purpose is declared in Ephesians 4 to be the object of the ministry of the gifts which has in view the building up the body of Christ, more fully stated in verses 15, 16, as “growing up to Him in all things, who is the Head, the Christ, from whom, etc.”
In any case, whether the ministry were by the apostle or by other gifts, the effect where it was received would be immense. Under the eye of heaven in place of diverse and opposing nations sunk in corruption and unbelief, there would grow up, under the eye of Heaven, a new company, to whom Christ was all things, and in every one of whom He had become power of life in order that in him might be displayed the moral virtues of the Head (Col. 3). What grace and wisdom are here disclosed? And what a victory over the evil of our nature? And the power of Satan! According to the administration of the mystery instead of one Christ in one locality, He, wherever the truth had reached, would have many representatives enjoying the power of union with Him in heaven, and setting forth His excellency on earth. Thus the triumph of divine wisdom would come into evidence and the heavenly hierarchies find a new lesson book in the order of the assembly. Wonderful it is, too, to notice that it was in order that there might be a scene for this display that God created all things (v. 9), plainly indicating the importance and value He attached to it.
But we have been briefly and feebly seeking to set forth that which ought to be. Alas, if we look at that which is, we have to admit a sorrowful difference and contrast. As a witness in this world the church has become evidence of the power and subtlety of Satan, though regarded from another point of view “the body” is still here invincible in the life of its Head, against that life no forces of evil can prevail, so that even in the presence of corporate breakdown, there is grace and power available in Christ for the individual so to live that in his body, whether by life or death, He should be magnified. Such was the earnest expectation and hope of the great apostle himself, while at the same time he was constrained to testify of others that he had no man like-minded, all were seeking their own, not the things of Jesus Christ (see Phil. 1 and 2).
On the other hand, with regard to the future, we are told in the last verses of Ephesians 3 of a power working in us adequate to secure the glory of God IN THE CHURCH IN CHRIST JESUS unto all generations for ever and ever. But this blessed consummation in no way affects present privilege and responsibility as set forth in verses 9, 10, and emphasized by the little word “NOW,” according to which such a testimony should be rendered, in the unity of the body, that the wisdom of God might be learned by those heavenly beings who can intelligently enter into the carrying out of His plans.
Your affectionate brother in Christ,