"For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, if ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; that the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel: whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power. Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord: in whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him."
I've been meaning to complete this post for awhile now. I worked on it yesterday, didn't complete it, then, in reading through Psalms and Ephesians chapter by chapter this week, I happened to land on Ephesians 3 this morning. Good timing as always, God :) I think it's a safe assumption to take this as motivation and a request to finish this post.
If I've spoken to you about God and the Bible, it's very likely you've heard me mention this word, dispensation/dispensationalism. In this chapter, Paul writes directly to us and mentions the word as well. Yes, I know it's wording differs depending on the translation, but regardless of the translation, it is obvious Paul's talking about a revelation, something new that was a mystery to Christ's followers before. Through years of interest in this topic, I think I've learned a bit more than average...at least enough to explain what it is and why it's so important to understand. Dispensationalism is a big word, often defined as simply "right division." By rightly dividing the Bible, we consider to who each book is written and for what purpose. When applying this principle to the Bible, the so-called contradictions disappear, the reason bad things happen to good people makes more sense, and misinterpretations of The Law, prompting religious issues, are blatantly obvious. So I would assume, with good reason, that the Bible/Book Thumper that made you feel guilty, unworthy or mad, possibly deterring you from wanting any part of...religion, God or whatever higher power they were yelling about, did not grasp the concept of dispensationalism. So, let me explain.
God created a beautiful world, and why not? He's God, all powerful and capable of doing so. In addition, God desires love, as we all do, because we are made in His image. To love and to be loved are very obvious desires we, as humans, possess. God does too, and yes, he could have created humans equivalent to dogs who would likely love Him no matter what, but he didn't want to create something designed or forced to love Him. God wanted to create something that could choose to love Him. And, I'm sure we can all say we would do the same. How many fights in relationships are centered around finding assurance in one's sincere love for the other? A lot!: "He only wants me, because I'm pretty," "She only wants me, because I'm rich," "If he really loves me, he would have committed already," "He/She's taking advantage of me," "If he loves me, he wouldn't look at her like that," "If she loves me, she'd delete those photos of him..." Now, place yourself in God's position to think, "They only love me, because I created them to." We want real love, not forced, fake love.
God created us with free will and the ability to choose whether or not we want to love Him. It started with the first humans God created, Adam and Eve. He gave them the opportunity to choose. In choosing to obey him or disobey Him, they chose the latter. Like any good parent or lover, God didn't let this slide without confrontation and punishment. If you haven't learned by now, suppressing issues and letting bad things happen, when you have the control to stop them, just makes things worse and will likely negatively impact you, your loved ones and others. So, don't tell me God wasn't right in kicking Adam and Eve out of the garden or that parent's should not punish their kids when they lie. In addition to punishing them, God set standards/rules, defining good and bad. He designed these commandments, as our Creator, knowing our needs, desires and struggles and the instruction manual to best help us handle them. But, through year's of trying to follow these commandments, God also knew we are not perfect like Him and we would never be able to live by these rules. God requested sacrifices to gain forgiveness for breaking these laws, and promised restoration of The Kingdom for those who did abide. In mentioning The Kingdom, we also read of the circumcised and uncircumcised, and Jews and Gentiles. Beginning in Romans, Paul explains that there is no longer a difference between the Jews and Gentiles, and that we "all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3)." Paul explains this a lot, because in Genesis through Malachi, and even in the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), the Jews and Gentiles are dealt with differently, as the Jews were God's chosen people. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus explains that a new revelation is coming, even though the Jews were expecting Him to restore their Kingdom. Jesus did not restore their Kingdom as they expected. Jesus died. Upon rising from the dead, this new revelation was given to Saul, who was renamed Paul, to tell EVERYONE (Jews and Gentiles) that no one is saved by the Law, there is no separation between Jews and Gentiles (those who have tried to follow God's commands and those who have not) and ALL who believes have been forgiven for our sins, from which we could not save ourselves from!
This revelation was confusing to the Jews, because they were still expecting this promise to have their Kingdom restored, and they will. Beginning in Hebrews, this separation between the Jews and Gentiles continues, to fulfill the promises God made to the Jews. This is VERY important to understand, because if we continue reading, as if the books before and after Romans through Philemon are written directly to us, it becomes very confusing and seemingly contradicting. "But now," as indicated by Paul's words in Ephesians 2, we, Jews and Gentiles (Gentiles are simply 'not Jews'), are all saved by grace through God's forgiveness/ultimate sacrifice of Jesus. As shown in Galatians 2, the Jews struggled to understand that the Gentiles/heathens/uncircumcised sinners were granted the free gift of salvation like they were, having spent their lives trying to follow The Law, when these non-Jew/Gentiles had not.
"For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews? We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid. For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor. For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain." Galatians 2:12-21
Paul explains that construing this new revelation of grace (free forgiveness that cannot be earned) with the Law (trying to earn forgiveness) makes Christ's death, for our forgiveness, pointless. This further emphasizes the importance of distinguishing the differences between that which is written to people, before Jesus died (Genesis through Acts) and when He returns (Hebrews through Revelations), and what's written to us (Romans through Philemon). In not rightly dividing, seeing the dispensation, of where, in the Bible we are being addressed directly, you see contradictions and may begin wondering why we are not getting awarded for trying to follow the Ten Commandments (why bad things happen to good people) and may begin thinking we must work to earn our way into Heaven. When reading the Bible, by taking into account what's written to us and what's written for us, we see that we cannot earn forgiveness. According to God, we have all broken His law/commands, and none of us are good enough to earn our way into Heaven. In fact, we all deserve to be punished, so anything bad or good that happens to anyone, has nothing to do with being better or worse than another. As Paul explains in Romans 3, we are all guilty, so despite any suffering here on Earth, we must focus on God's FREE gift of forgiveness for everlasting life after we die.
"What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; as it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Romans 3:9-12