The Stewardship of the Mystery

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 9 - The "Mystery" or Divine Secret in the Letter to the Philippians

There are, surely, very few people for whom this Letter does not have a very warm place. Its general nature of warm love, pure joy, and transparent purity endears it to all hearts, while some of its particular parts have fastened it to heart and mind. It is only necessary to say 'Philippians 2:10' or '4:9' for instance, and everybody knows!

It is, however, to add to the value of this Letter, rather than to take from it, to see it in relation to the whole 'stewardship' of its writer. It is a point of immense value and importance to see all parts of the Bible in their greater setting rather than just in the occasion of their immediate object. Being God's Word - God who is eternal, universal and infinite breathes that super-temporal character into all that emanates from Him - no smallest portion can ever be exhausted as to its content; preach on it howsoever many times you may; it is still beyond you.

Although the word 'mystery' does not occur in the Letter to the Philippians, it is as implicitly there as anywhere. Although each of the three letters written in prison was given a particular complexion relative to its destination, it is clear that beneath and behind them all the Apostle's mind was working on the same major line or theme, and that was what he called the 'mystery'. This is quite apparent when we compare Philippians 2:9 with Ephesians 1:21, Philippians 2:10 and Ephesians 1:10 and Colossians 1:16-20.

With this evidence of the deeper and vaster mental background we are brought to the immense implication of that classic section of the Letter to the Philippians marked in the arrangement chapter 2 verses 5 to 11. While this is a matchless unveiling of the cycle of redemption, from the glory which Christ had with the Father before times eternal down stage by stage to the deepest depths of shame and ignominy, then up, up, up to the 'highest place that Heaven affords'; there is a clear implication in the clause - "counted it not a thing to be grasped to be on equality with God" - that the letting go, the 'emptying', the 'humbling', etc., was - in the light of the context - to offset and undo terrible havoc wrought through an unlawful 'grasping' at that position somewhere, at some time, by someone. There is plenty in the Scriptures - borne out by human history, with immense emphasis in these later times - to show that there is in this universe a power which has ever striven, to be - at least - "equal with the Most High" indeed, to usurp His place.

At some time a rift took place in this universe, first outside of this world, and then pressed into it with the object of establishing independence of God and robbing Him of His rights. The evidence of this is massive, and it is the central and focal ground of all spiritual conflict which rages in the whole creation, and in man in particular. Seeing, that it was - and is - a moral issue of rights and righteousness, it had to be dealt with and answered on that ground. And seeing that man is the object and vehicle involved in this issue, the whole thing had to be taken up and fought through in man-form. So, the "mystery" in Philippians is "the mystery of iniquity"; the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God; the mystery of the Cross; and the mystery of the ineffable Name. The iniquity of an unrightful grasping at equality with God had to be answered by a relinquishing of the rightful equality, and descent to the lowest depths where that iniquity reached.

'He plunged in His imperial strength
To gulfs of darkness down:
He brought His trophy up at length;
The foiled usurper's crown.'
Humility must answer pride. Emptiness must counter false fulness. Weakness must be the way of true power. The Cross of shame must be the pathway to the eternal glory.

God must be vindicated and His rights in creation be established. Righteousness - which just means 'God vindicated' - must be "fulfilled". The baptism of the passion is the only way. You agree - this is all a 'mystery'. Yes, and Paul says that this was the 'stewardship' entrusted to him.

Read the whole of the Letter to the Philippians in the light of the above, and it lives with infinite meaning.

It is very impressive that the Apostle should take up this immense revelation and presentation of Christ in the grand cycle from glory to glory in relation to a local situation. There is his heartfelt appeal in chapter 2, verses 1 to 4; then there is his appeal to Euodia and Syntyche in 4:2, as well as other hints, showing that things were not all well at Philippi. There was division; a lack of 'like-mindedness'; a strain in relationships. If the implication of the great appeal of Christ's condescension means anything, surely it is that the cause of the division was a 'grasping', a holding, a not letting go; in a word - pride! Somewhere there was an inability or unwillingness to use the most difficult words in any human language - 'I have been wrong'!

In effect, the Apostle says: It was anything but easy for the Son of God to trail that long and painful journey which led to being "obedient unto death, yea, the death of the Cross"; but He did it for us. "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus"! This is the only way to heal the divisions and come to be of "the same mind". Not discussions, arguments, or sentiment; but "a broken and contrite, spirit", an 'obedience even unto death.'

In keeping with T. Austin-Sparks' wishes that what was freely received should be freely given and not sold for profit, and that his messages be reproduced word for word, we ask if you choose to share these messages with others, to please respect his wishes and offer them freely - free of any changes, free of any charge (except necessary distribution costs) and with this statement included.