“Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:1-2). This is what Paul says to the church at Corinth which he helped establish, the church at Corinth that we have heard about from St. Luke in Acts 18.
What are these mysteries of which we are also stewards? We see it from one angle in Ephesians 1:9-10, where we hear that God has “made known to us the mystery of His will . . . that in the dispensation of the fullness of times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him.” The entire letter of Paul to the church at Ephesus, which he also helped to establish on Christ and which we read about in Acts 19-20, is filled with wisdom about this mystery. Paul describes this mystery as the truth that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel (Ephesians 3:3-7).
Paul envisioned his ministry as making known to all the fellowship of the mystery of God so that the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the Church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places (Ephesians 3:8-12).
Again, what is this mystery? In speaking of the husband as head of the wife and the unity in love that is to exist between a husband and his wife, Paul reveals that the great mystery he is really talking about is Christ and the church. Husband are to love their wives just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church (Ephesians 5:22-32).
In case you missed it, the mystery of God is this: Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27). But notice the entirety of what Paul says: “To them God willed to make know what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you (Colossian Gentile Christians), the hope of glory.” If you go back and read Paul’s letter closely, it’s amazing how many times the Gentiles specifically are associated with the mystery of God (Romans 11:25; Ephesians 3:6; Ephesians 3:8; Colossians 1:27; and 1 Timothy 3:16).
Why the Gentiles? Why are they so prominent in this mystery? Because the mystery of Christ and the Church, which is the mystery of God in you, is the mystery of God sharing His mystical unity in love (which is Himself, the Holy Trinity) with sinful men. This mystery of God sharing His mystical unity in love is so powerful that it unites and heals all ancient divisions: men and women, husband and wives, parents and children, masters and slaves, and what seemed to be the most irreparable division of all: Jews and Gentiles.
Therefore, what we are witnesses of this morning, as we read Acts 21, is not just some humdrum description of another journey of St. Paul and the gang: it’s a picture of the mystery of God at work in the lives of those made in His image. In Acts 21, we have Jesus Christ dwelling in His Body through the Holy Spirit so that the Church may continue to do the things Jesus said and did when He was on earth.
We see Paul going to every church and encouraging them, so “that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ (Colossians 2:2). We see God manifested among the Gentiles, who were also now heirs of God and His Kingdom. We see brethren in Christ traveling to see other brethren, who receive them gladly (Acts 21:17). We see Christians glorifying God because of His mercy and grace to others (verse 20), and we see the rocky but loving marriage of opposites who attract because God has joined them together.
But what does all of this have to do with us here today? Everything! We are also the Body of Christ. We are also stewards of the mysteries of God. But our stewardship is not the kind where we can lock up the treasure to be guarded as if it is outside of us: we are God’s treasure and we must live out His Kingdom among men.
The people in your life who are not like you, the people in your life who you don’t like: these are the people for whom Jesus Christ died that we might all be one.
Think of the sad divisions among Christians today. No, I’m not primarily talking about the fact that there are different denominations: this is not necessarily, in and of itself, sinful. I’m talking about something much less abstract, something much more personal, and something much painful for you. I’m talking about whatever divisions to whatever degree you might have between you and other brothers and sisters in Christ in your life.
Do you want to teach the angels? Do you want to be the presence of Jesus Christ on earth? Then go and love your Christian neighbors – all of them – and begin manifesting the mystery of God’s unity in love, which is the mystery of Christ in you.
Prayer: O God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Saviour, the Prince of Peace; Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions. Take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatsoever else may hinder us from godly union and concord: that as there is but one Body and one Spirit, and one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and one mouth glorify thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Point for Meditation: Meditate on the unity, peace, and love in the Holy Trinity and in the early church, and then meditate on the unity, peace, and love in your life. What is the Spirit telling you?
Resolution: I resolve to find one way today to show the unity, peace, and love in the Body of Christ that is the mystery of the ages. I will look especially for an opportunity to be a minister of reconciliation, especially in any division in my life.
© 2014 Fr. Charles Erlandson