Article for September edition of The Hillside Messenger
“The Unsearchable Riches of Christ”
(based on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, Chapter 3)
A mystery is thought of as something inexplicable, either temporarily or permanently. In fact, when a priest does not know the answer to a theological question, he may give the enigmatic reply, “It is a mystery.” The Greek word “mysterion”, from which our English word “mystery” derives, certainly entails the idea of a secret, but in the New Testament, the word expresses truth which was secret, and hidden, but has now been made known through the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. This kind of truth could not be discovered by human reason, but God alone could reveal it. Ephesians 3 is a passage which shows that God has disclosed the mystery of Christ to the Apostles.
St. Paul declares (Eph. 3:3) that God has revealed to him the mystery of Christ, a mystery not revealed to mankind in previous ages as it now stands revealed by God’s holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit (Eph. 3:4). What is this mystery which was made known to the apostles and prophets? In Colossians 1:27, St. Paul states that this mystery, or the glorious riches of it, is Christ himself, who is in his people, and is “the hope of glory.” It is also the truth that in Christ and through His Gospel, the Gentiles are fellow-heirs of God’s Kingdom with all Jews who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Jews and Gentiles in Christ are members of the same Body of Christ, and partakers of God’s promise of eternal life through the Lord Jesus Christ. The essence of this is that people of all nations, languages and cultures, when they come to the Lord Jesus Christ for eternal life, not only receive this life from Christ in receiving Christ himself, but become members of His Body throughout the world.
St. Paul explains his role in this, that, though “less than the least of all saints” (Eph. 3:8), he has been given the grace to preach to the Gentiles “the unsearchable riches of Christ”. These riches are called “unsearchable”, because they are inexhaustible and infinite, never ending. The Greek word translated by “unsearchable” is also used in Romans 11:33, where it describes the ways, or the paths, of God, which cannot be understood completely on earth. Similarly, the riches of Christ cannot be fully known or understood on earth. These riches are conveyed by the Gospel of Christ, by which those who hear, believe and obey, are brought “out of darkness into God’s marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). The preaching of this Gospel and the witness to Christ given by countless Christians has yet another purpose, namely to make known God’s “manifold wisdom” to the principalities and powers in heavenly places according to God’s eternal purpose set forth in the Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 3:10-11).
Because of all the above, the sharing of the Gospel and all the costs and trials associated with doing so, have a far more meaningful and powerful consequence than we are at first inclined to think. We are sharing in God’s cosmic purpose of making known his purposes to all the universe.
Now, this means that tribulations and trials suffered for the sake of the Gospel are for God’s glory, and the Church must not be disheartened by them, but rather rejoice. In this context, St. Paul prays one of the most beautiful prayers in the New Testament, that, from the riches of His glory, God would strengthen the Ephesian Christians by His Spirit in their inner being; that Christ might dwell in their hearts by faith; that they, being established in love, might know the love of Christ, which exceeds knowledge, and be filled with all God’s fullness (Eph. 3:16-19). This prayer really sets out the ultimate wealth, the supreme spiritual treasure which Christians must realize that they have and will have because they have been baptized into union with the Lord Jesus Christ. This realization comes through prayer and faith, and it is according to the “wealth of His glory” (Eph. 3:16) by which God’s Spirit strengthens the inner being of Christians in power, so that Christ may dwell in their hearts through faith (Eph. 3:17). It is by God’s gracious gift of spiritual strengthening and empowering, that Christians exercise faith in the Lord to the point that He lives in their hearts through their faith in Him. Christ living in us is by our faith in Him, and that faith is His gift of grace to us. This is not just the faith that we showed in Holy Baptism or Holy Confirmation, but the continuing faith that is necessary for Christian living.
Without faith in Christ, and his strengthening of our inner being to exercise that faith, we can so easily be overcome by doubt, fear, pride, and all the other evils which attempt to live in Christ’s place in our hearts. The indwelling of Christ in us through the Holy Spirit leads to and accompanies a life rooted in and built on God’s love (Eph. 3:17). All our thoughts, words, and actions will flow from God’s love when the Lord Jesus Christ fully reigns in our lives and orders what we think, say, or do. This means that all our relationships will be governed by the love of God, and our behavior will express this. This grounding in the love of God, as a result of Christ living and ruling in us, will lead us more and more with all the saints (God’s people) to comprehend all the dimensions of the love of Christ, although such love exceeds our knowledge, so that we might be filled with all the fullness of God (Eph. 3:17-19)
The unsearchable riches of Christ are Christ himself, who has the fullness of God, whose love cannot be fully comprehended on this earth. At this point, one might think of these riches as practically unattainable on earth, since the love of Christ surpasses human knowledge. One might also ask how St. Paul, while a prisoner of Rome, could come to this wonderful insight in circumstances which might cause others to despair – imprisonment from which release was uncertain. It is a sure testimony to the spiritual nature of the riches whose Gospel he was proclaiming, that instead of despair, he had himself come to know some of the fullness of Christ, and was living a life rooted in the love of God, growing daily in his comprehension of the love of God.
This great prayer for the Ephesians leads him into thankfulness and praise, as he knows that God will not only answer his prayer, but answer it by doing far more than he or all Christians can ask or think, according to His power at work in us (Eph. 3:20). To God, then, he gives the glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages (Eph. 3:21).
The unsearchable riches of Christ, I conclude, can be found in Christ, no matter in what circumstances we find ourselves, since St. Paul could find them and teach about them, and while a prisoner of the Lord (Eph. 4:1), could pray that the Ephesian Christians might comprehend them. Therefore we should aim to comprehend the love of God.
But there are so many whose ambitions are not to attain to the unsearchable riches of Christ but to obtain the wealth, the honors, the material things of this world, and its glory.
As Thomas à Kempis wrote: “Glory not in wealth if thou have it, nor in friends who are powerful; but in God who giveth all things, and above all desireth to give thee himself.”
(Par. 2, p. 41, Rosalie De Rosset (Ed.): Thomas à Kempis: The Imitation of Christ. Chicago: Moody Classics, 1980, 2007)
What wealth, then, do you seek? Does your life reflect your desire for the unsearchable riches of Christ?