The apostle Paul never missed a teaching opportunity. In Ephesians 3:1–13, he interrupted his own prayer to expound on the divine mystery of God revealed in the New Testament church of Jesus Christ. The previously hidden secret was now made known—both Jews and Gentiles would share equally in the gospel of salvation (verse 6). God had a specific purpose for using the church in this way: “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ephesians 3:10–11).
The word translated “manifold” in Ephesians 3:10 means “many and varied; having many features and forms; wrought in various colors; diversified, intricate, complex, many-sided.” God’s wisdom in His extraordinary plan of salvation, as seen in the new and mysterious creation of the church, is a multi-faceted, many-colored, culturally diverse, rich, and beautiful community of believers. There is no other human co-op like it in the world.
According to Bible commentators, “the manifold wisdom of God” is a poetic and artistic expression suggesting the intricate nature of an embroidered pattern as in Joseph’s “tunic of many colors” (Genesis 37:3, NKJV). Each member of the body of Christ manifests a different aspect of God’s image (Genesis 1:26–27; James 3:9; Ephesians 4:24). Together, believers form a perfect blend of harmony and diversity. The many features, forms, and colors of fellowship in the church reflect the manifold wisdom of God.
For the earliest Christians, and particularly the Jews, the up-to-that-time secret mystery of the church was truly a mind-blowing revelation. Even “the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” were learning about it for the first time. To the Romans, Paul declared, “Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!” (Romans 11:33, NLT).
Paul referred to the church as “the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. To them, God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:26–27).
God’s mystery is Christ “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). Jesus possesses the manifold wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24, 30) and reveals it to the world through His body, the church. We have Christ in us—the hope of glory. It still astonishes and overwhelms that God has chosen to package the treasure of His manifold wisdom in fragile, human “jars of clay” (2 Corinthians 4:7–11).
The Bible reveals the manifold wisdom of God as unsearchable, deep, and beyond measure (Isaiah 40:28; Psalm 92:5; 147:5). James describes it as “wisdom from above,” which is “first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere” (James 3:17, NLT). On the other hand, human wisdom has no merit of its own (1 Corinthians 1:19–21; Isaiah 29:14). Nevertheless, God gives His wisdom to humans as a gift (Proverbs 2:6; 1 Corinthians 2:6–16; James 1:5), and His followers are to continue praying and asking Him for spiritual wisdom (Colossians 1:9).
As believers, we can picture the manifold wisdom of God as a global, body of Christ-shaped tapestry. Our individual lives are the various colored threads woven together in unity of purpose—to display God’s manifold wisdom through the church. We do this by taking the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ to all the people of the world.