The Stewardship of the Mystery
Chapter 6 - "The Mystery" in the Letters to the Corinthians
"...I came to you... proclaiming the mystery of God" (1 Cor.
"We speak God's wisdom in a mystery... that hath been hidden,
which God foreordained before the worlds unto our glory, which
none of the rulers of this world knoweth" (1 Cor. 2:7).
When it is remembered how full this letter is of very practical and
earthly things, many of them so sordid and unpleasant (so much so
that we might be tempted to wonder whether many of the people
concerned were really born again and regenerated), it is all the
more impressive that in such a setting the Apostle should keep to
his high and profound ground of "The Mystery". But, with all his
knowledge of what he had to deal with and what he had got to say, he
deliberately referred to that ultimate matter twice in the very
early part of his letter. It is evident that the deliberateness of
his decision as to the ground that he would take (2:2) did not mean
a complete descent to the mundane, but a determination to have the
mundane dealt with from the heavenly position. That is exactly the
point in bringing his particular "stewardship" into such a
situation, and it should be noted as a principle for all time. We
have heard it argued that it is a mistake to bring the high and
ultimate truth into situations which are so contradictory: that we
must leave them until things are put right and people are ready for
True, people cannot enter into the greater fulness until
they are in a right position, but the principle of the Bible is
always to make the ultimate vision the motive and dynamic for
leaving the low and unsatisfactory levels. The argument of 'coming
down to where people are' has resulted in a stultified and subnormal
If the second letter to Corinth indicates a real improvement in the
situation there, it is because the Apostle, while repudiating their
low level, and drastically dealing with its features, kept the high
and ultimate implicit in his ministry to them. Look at such passages
as chapter 2, verse 9 to 16, and the whole of chapter 15. Some of
the most profound things in all Scripture are in these sections.
We must, then, recognize that it was not artificial on the part of
the Apostle to take this line, but the very essence of his ministry.
Setting the two things alongside of each other, that is, the record
and exposure of the bad conditions at Corinth, and the high,
exalted, and profound revelation of "The Mystery", what is the
inclusive and supreme implication and conclusion? Surely it lies
right on the face of things if we have eyes to see more than the
immediate details. It is just this. Christ is God's "Mystery" or
Christ is God's Eternal Answer to Man's
In this letter man's breakdown is both evidently shown and in detail
described and demonstrated. If 'Romans' has declared and shown the
universality of human sinfulness, giving some evidences and aspects
of it, the first letter to the Corinthians makes the universal very
concrete and explicit. The essential way of reading and applying
what is in this letter is twofold.
First by contrast. These things mentioned and dealt with by the
Apostle are contrary to the New Creation Man - Christ. Take
them as they are referred to - divisions, law-suits, idolatry,
fornication, etc. - and the answer is: That is just not
Christ! Christ is not like that! That is one thing, in one realm.
Christ is another, and in another realm. These things have no accord
with Christ, and if Christ prevails, these things will just
disappear. "Christ... crucified" means that He is dead to such
things, and the Christian is supposed to be in the same
position. Paul raises the fundamental and universal question in a
typical connection. "What concord?" "What in common?" "What
fellowship?" asks he as to these contrasts (2 Cor. 6:14-15).
Then, following the contrast, is the measure of Christ. The
contrast indicates the difference in nature; the difference in
nature determines the measure of the apprehension of Christ. The
Apostle is very emphatic in his statement that the presence of the
things mentioned is evidence of spiritual infancy; that is,
smallness in stature, limitation in spiritual capacity, undeveloped
spiritual intelligence, and childishness in disposition.
Arrested or even retarded spiritual growth is signified by
divisions, envies, jealousies, factions, malice, etc. What an
indictment! What an exposure! It all speaks of a small measure of
Christ. Christ is greater than this.
The cure for such a condition is not better organization; more
particular technique; a social reconstruction; discussions;
conferences; but a breaking open and breaking down so that the place
of that obstructive "I" (1 Cor. 1:12,13) is occupied by more of
Christ. Remember that, as at Corinth, so anywhere, the "I" is
usually the very right 'I' with those concerned. The
strength and menace of all egoism, selfhood, is its certainty that
it is right, and its inability to even imagine that it may be wrong.
Pride is the blindest, and the most blinding thing in the spiritual
and moral universe. Hence it is most limiting in true spirituality.
Show us the man who is most Christlike, who really has Christly
measure, and you show us the least stubborn, obdurate, and certain
that he is right; but is most open to "judge himself", as Paul puts
it to these Corinthians.
This other, says Paul, is "the natural man" and he labours under
handicaps and limitations which keep Christ in the strictest
limitation. This man is incorrigible, he cannot be cured. He cannot
be taught. He cannot be persuaded. He must die; or rather, he must
apprehend that "Christ crucified" really did mean his - the
natural man's - death.
Let us at this point look again and more intently at the Cross. Let
us note that
Crucifixion is Transfixion.
The dictionary says that transfixion means to pierce through. If
crucifixion means fastening to a cross, or cross-wise, transfixion
means the piercing through by which the fastening is made. When Paul
spoke so much about himself and all believers having been "crucified
with Christ" he made it abundantly clear that this was more than a
doctrine. It was a position and an experience: a position once taken
or accepted, and an experience continually known and
applied. Indeed, although he did not use the actual word, he makes
it clear that crucifixion was, and is, transfixion.
There is a sense in which the crucifixion of Christ was but
consummated at Calvary. There and then He became the sin-bearer. But
the crucifixion - or the Cross - reached forward into His whole life
from the time of leaving the glory and becoming incarnate. It
commenced in the spiritual realm. There was a spiritual hostility
against Him from birth which pointed to the climax of Calvary. All
through His life He was taking up His cross, and denying - saying,
No! - to Himself. The nails were constantly, so to speak, being
driven through His soul. His mind, His will, His feelings, were
nailed to the Cross in principle. Again and again - in this sense -
He was pierced through. The literal cross of wood had to be, but a
literal cross of wood was a symbol of something deeper and greater.
He was transfixed to the Cross when He refused to ask for the legion
of angels available for His rescue.
It meant acceptance of helpless weakness and non-deliverance.
It meant: "As a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her
shearers" - dumb.
It meant that the very man whom He created was allowed to overpower
It meant that His hands - the symbols of His work and service - were
It meant that His feet - the symbols of all His goings - were
It meant that His head - the symbol of the government of Himself and
all His ways of thought and action - was pierced with thorns.
It meant that His very heart was pierced by the spear; the spring of
His life; the integrating and unifying seat of the whole man -
While the Christian has no part in the atoning vicariousness of all
this, other than to inherit its values, our being "crucified with
Christ" does mean transfixion. The mind, the will, the desires; the
works, the ways, and the self-determination of our lives, have to be
pierced through and brought "into captivity" to Christ.
All this is - if you will look again - an exposition of the First
Letter to the Corinthians, and it all flows out of Paul's resolve
and its meaning - "I determined not to know anything among you, save
Jesus Christ, and him crucified".
This is God's Secret, God's hidden wisdom, God's Mystery for the
solving of the age-long problem of human disruption and depravity -
it is "Christ crucified".
In the first of these two letters we have seen the 'Mystery' in
relation to manhood in Christ. As "the last Adam" and "the second
man" He connects specifically to the race, and is God's secret
("mystery") for securing the kind of man that God conceived when He
said: "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness". The first
man was corrupted, deformed, and, like the potter's vessel
of Jeremiah, rejected as the acceptable vessel, unto the making of
"another vessel" pleasing to the Potter. Into the original concept
God's Son stepped in man-form (Phil. 2:7,8) and is the "image" and
"likeness" to which a new creation is to be "conformed" (Romans
In the light of this our last chapter should be read (or rather, the
first part of this chapter). It requires a book to itself, and, if
the Lord enables, such will be written.
In the deeper theme of 'God's Secret' the two Corinthian Letters are
one in their particular aspect of this matter. The second takes up
and carries "the mystery" on into larger connections. The first
letter is largely personal and subjective. In the second letter we
find 'God's Secret' as the interpretation of a wider range of
symbolic activities. There are so many symbolic and typological
allusions in these two letters which so evidently express the
background of the Apostle's new understanding, lying behind the
things actually mentioned. Let us tabulate some of these: -
We do not refer to the much larger number of Old Testament
passages, but only to incidents and things.
"The Cloud". "The Sea". "The Manna". "The Rock". The Fall in the
Wilderness 1 Cor. 10:1-5. The created universe - "Bodies celestial",
"Bodies terrestrial"; "Sun, moon, stars". 1 Cor. 15:40, 41.
"First man Adam". 1 Cor. 15:45, 47-49. The tables of the (old)
Covenant. 2 Cor. 3:3-11. Moses and the face-veil. 2 Cor. 3:12-16.
The fiat of light at creation. 2 Cor. 4:6. Gideon's earthen vessels
with the lamps within. 2 Cor. 4:7.
Perhaps the sign of Gideon's fleece 2 Cor. 4:10-12.
The old creation. 2 Cor. 5:17. The Tabernacle in the Wilderness. 2
Cor. 6:16. The Manna in the Wilderness. 2 Cor. 8:15. The temptation
in the garden. 2 Cor. 11:3.
What we are indicating by all this is that God - in His acts and
ways - from creation onward, has had an underlying and hidden
thought. Everything that has come from God in a temporal or material
way has some spiritual thought or thoughts behind it, or concealed
in it. It is intended to represent something that is in God's mind,
which is deeper and more real than the means of representation. The
means or method may be temporal, but the thought and meaning are
eternal. How vast a range of Divine revelation this touches! But,
for our purpose here, we must refuse to be drawn out into this
marvellous realm and concentrate on the focal point.
The Focal-Point of All Revelation
Let us say at once, and, in the light of a vast amount of Scripture,
that the sum of all the thoughts and interests of God the Father is
His Son, now known to us as Jesus Christ. To have spiritual insight
into all the allusions - mentioned or not mentioned above - is to
see God moving with thoughts concerning His Son, and this is
the insight which had come to Paul when he saw Jesus Christ - "It
pleased God to reveal his Son in me" (Gal. 1:15).
Out from behind his great knowledge of the Old Testament, Paul was
bringing the hidden and concealed Divine meaning concerning Jesus
Christ. He had never seen all this - or any or it - before. Now,
with his spiritual eyes opened, and "a spirit of wisdom and
revelation in the knowledge of him" (Eph. 1:17,18), he sees God's
hidden secret, the 'Mystery' hidden from the ages, and the universe
of Heaven and earth is opened to him. So great, breath-taking, and
overwhelming is this that he can only ejaculate at times: "O, the
depth of the riches...!" "the unsearchable riches of Christ". For
him, the Bible lives; the universe lives; and all things
have a meaning. That meaning is Christ!
This is what Paul called his "stewardship"; his trust. Paul never
had to sit down and think up or work up sermons. If he did reading,
as he did, or in drawing upon his earlier reading, it was with this
open Heaven over him (John 1:51) and this new faculty - his
born-anew spirit anointed by the Holy Spirit - seeing through and
in, and beyond all things to God's thoughts concerning His Son. Oh,
that we knew in large measure what there is to be known of history,
astronomy, physiology, and so on, so that, given this spiritual
faculty, we might read the thoughts of God in all His works and
ways; His means and His methods; and see that Christ fills all
things! How vast a Christ we should see Him to be!
This is "the Mystery" - 'God's Secret', as in the Corinthian
Letters, concerning which, Paul said that he was made a minister. We
have only hinted at it, but we trust that the 'hint' draws aside the
blinds and that we begin to see something of the profound
and far-reaching meaning of a phrase which, without the opened eye,
would be mysterious rather than a disclosed universe of Divine
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