The Stewardship of the Mystery

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 6 - "The Mystery" in the Letters to the Corinthians

"...I came to you... proclaiming the mystery of God" (1 Cor. 2:1).

"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 such things.

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 Christianity.

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 Secret.

Christ is God's Eternal Answer to Man's Breakdown

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 Him.

It meant that His hands - the symbols of His work and service - were transfixed.

It meant that His feet - the symbols of all His goings - were transfixed.

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 - pierced through.

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 8:29).

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 intention.

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