As I said yesterday, Paul always contextualizes the gospel to fit the audience he is addressing. Think of it like jazz. There is a main harmony that is constant throughout a song, but from what little I understand about jazz music a good musician takes that harmony and riffs off in new variations of the same constant harmony. (Feel free to correct me if I apparently don’t understand anything about jazz!)
Sometimes Paul calls each of these variations a “mystery,” or “secret” as Wright translates it. These are unique, audience-specific versions of the gospel or the consequences of the gospel. In Ephesians 3, Paul gives the Ephesian Christians theirs:
When you read this you’ll be able to understand the special insight I have into the king’s secret. . . . Now it’s been revealed by the spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. The secret is this: that, through the gospel, the Gentiles are to share Israel’s inheritance. They are to become fellow members of the body, along with them, and fellow sharers of the promise in King Jesus. . . . My job is to make clear to everyone just what the secret plan is. (3:4b-6, 9a)
Paul has a ministry to share this wonderful new message far and wide, with Jews and Gentiles alike. All are welcome. This Jesus thing isn’t just for Jews. Gentiles are welcome too. And the revolutionary idea that Paul hasn’t really fleshed out in this book as much as he did in Galatians, for instance, is that these Gentiles don’t have to become Jews to become Christians.
This was not as easy a message to preach as we might think. Sure, the Gentiles would be down with it. But the Jewish gatekeepers were not as enthusiastic. The first century Church spent the better part of that first century ironing out all of the details of that “secret.” It got Paul beaten up more than a few times. It caused churches to split. It caused more than a little fuss. Jewish Christians were content to come behind Paul and slander his ministry, lying about him and painting his ministry as an opportunistic grab at money and power. I just have to imagine there were days Paul had to have second thoughts and desires to jump the next ship to anywhere.
That is why I am so struck by this line that comes in the middle of this discussion of his ministry:
. . . he gave me this task as a gift . . . (3:8)
Wow! There was much about Paul’s ministry that I would not see as a “gift.” I am afraid I am weak enough that there are days I would want to return that gift for another one. Yet, not Paul. Oh, to have that perspective!