Secret and Hidden Wisdom

wordsworth“Wisdom is oft-times nearer when we stoop than when we soar.”

William Wordsworth, from The Excursion 1814


Wouldn’t you be ecstatic if an archaeologist discover a book containing answers to the mysteries of the ages? Well, it’s on your bookshelf! In contrast to the ancient understanding of “mystery” as a well-kept secret, God wants His truth to be known. Thus, when Paul calls himself and his companions “stewards of the mysteries [mystērion] of God” (1 Corinthians 4:1), his understanding is that he is in custody of spiritual truth that is meant to be shared freely, but also guarded as it is shared so to prevent it from being corrupted.

Get your Bible and do a little digging. A mystery is something revealed by God rather than discovered by human means, but mystērion does not have a uniform context in Paul’s letters. For instance, mystērion can refer to a “mystery” that is part of God’s plan of salvation (e.g., the partial hardening of Israel, Romans 11:25; the calling of the Gentiles, Ephesians 3:3–6; “the mystery hidden for ages,” Colossians 1:26). Alternatively, a mystērion can indicate a broad issue (e.g., the connection of marriage to Christ and the Church, Ephesians 5:32; “the mystery of lawlessness,” 2 Thessalonians 2:7). In addition, mystērion appears in the set phrase “mystery of Christ” (e.g., Ephesians 3:4; Colossians 4:3).

This is why it’s important to understand scripture. The apostles weren’t just giving us good advice.

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1 Corinthians 2:6–16

However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

But as it is written:

“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,

Nor have entered into the heart of man

The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”

10 But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. 11 For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.

13 These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. 16 For “who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

Digging Deeper – “Mystery”

Within the New Testament, the Greek word ” mystērion” appears primarily in the letters, but it does also appear in the Gospels—“the mystery [mystērion] of the kingdom” (Matthew 13:11; Mark 4:11; Luke 8:10). In addition, mystērion appears four times in Revelation regarding the mysteries revealed in John’s vision (Rev 1:20; 10:7; 17:5, 7). Most of the instances of mystērion appear in the Pauline letters, especially 1 Corinthians (six times), Ephesians (six times), and Colossians (four times).

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