The Dispensation of Grace
When a person is trying to communicate something to others, if essential information is misstated or not accurately presented there will be a failure to properly comprehend what is being communicated, which will often be accompanied by a rejection of what is being said. The unfortunate reality of this is all too often borne out by the repeated experience of it. Many times we find ourselves being misunderstood by others and having to say, “That’s not what I mean.” or, “That’s not what I meant to say.” We unintentionally lacked precision in what we said and it contributed to a misunderstanding. On the other hand, at times we can be carefully explaining something to someone, only to find ourselves perplexed by the apparent inability of the other to clearly understand what we are trying to say. They seem to have some other idea in their heads as to what we are saying, rather than what we know we are trying to say. They seem to fail to grasp what we are saying, and often jump to erroneous conclusions because they misconstrue things. Such experiences are frustrating to say the least. But most of all they are grievous because the important information we are trying to communicate fails to be properly understood and therefore it is rejected. Again, we experience such situations frequently and they testify to the problems that are often the result of making misstatements or misdefining something on the one hand, or on the other hand are the result of people not listening carefully and so making mistaken and unwarranted assumptions. We even often experience such communication problems when we talk to others about God’s word and what He is doing today in His plan and purpose. Yet it is in this area of communication above all that we should not want to be the least bit inaccurate or lack precision in what we say. We should not want to unintentionally fail to be explicit when we need to be, and so not adequately provide for the truth’s ability to expose an erroneous understanding in another’s mind. At the same time also no one should have an unteachable spirit which when challenged on some issue would refuse to honestly consider whether they possess the right understanding or not.
One particular area of Bible doctrine where we frequently encounter misunderstandings is when we talk about the uniqueness and distinctiveness of this present dispensation of Gentile grace. The “mystery” character of this dispensation and Paul’s special apostleship in connection with God’s revelation of it are things most Christians either are plainly ignorant of or they miscomprehend them. Unfortunately, though, a contributing factor to this can often come from us who do know the truth about this dispensation and do “rightly divide the word of truth” accordingly. Sometimes we unintentionally lack precision in our definition of what the dispensation of grace is all about, and in so doing we fail to accurately communicate the proper understanding. In view of the fact that what already prevails among Christians to begin with is an improper understanding of this dispensation and when it began, if we fail to be precise in our definition of it, then lack of proper comprehension and unwarranted rejection of what we say is all that will result. This, though, is something we should be careful not to be contributing to.
It goes beyond the capacity of this brief article to address this issue completely, but one of the ways in which we sometimes fail to properly define this dispensation of grace is when we talk about God now dealing with us Gentiles. Sometimes by not being precise in what we say we give the impression that what this dispensation of grace is all about is that God is now simply saving Gentiles. By not being explicit and clear about how God is dealing with us Gentiles today and the nature of His dealings with us, it comes across to others as if the simple salvation of Gentiles is what we are saying “the mystery” revealed to Paul is all about. God is saving Gentiles today, that is true. However, the saving of Gentiles per se is not what the “revelation of the mystery” committed to Paul is all about. It is not what this dispensation of Gentile grace is all about. For God’s program with Israel calls for the saving of Gentiles. Israel’s prophets bear repeated testimony to the salvation of Gentiles which God would bring to pass. For example,…
“God be merciful unto us, and bless us; and cause his face to shine upon us; Selah.
That thy way may be known upon the earth, THY SAVING HEALTH AMONG ALL NATIONS.” (Psalm 67:1-2)
“And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, AND ALL FLESH SHALL SEE IT TOGETHER: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.” (Isaiah 40:5)
“I the LORD have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, FOR A LIGHT OF THE GENTILES;…” (Isaiah 42:6)
That God would be saving Gentiles and that the Gentiles would be mercifully dealt with by God is clearly not something that is foreign to God’s program with Israel. In fact as Paul himself points out, that the Gentiles would “glorify God for his mercy” in connection with Israel is just what their program looked forward to.
“And that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy; as it is written, For this cause I will confess to thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto thy name.
And again he saith, Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with his people.
And again, Praise the Lord, all ye Gentiles; and laud him, all ye people.
And again, Esaias saith, There shall be a root of Jesse, and he that shall rise to reign over the Gentiles; in him shall the Gentiles trust.” (Romans 15:9-12)
It is not truly precise, therefore, to describe this dispensation of grace simply as God now dealing with us Gentiles. Israel’s program calls for that, with preparations for it even being made when the Lord commissioned His apostles just before returning to heaven.
“And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:…” (Matthew 28:18-19)
“And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15)
“And he said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day:
And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:46-47)
“But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
Unfortunately, because so many Christians think that just because the Gentiles are mentioned that it must be a reference to God’s dealing with us today, they mistake those commissions for our commissions and for the beginning of this dispensation of Gentile grace. But God dealing with the Gentiles per se was not a “mystery” which was “hid in God” and “kept secret since the world began.” But this dispensation of Gentile grace was a “mystery” and not made known in ages and generations past, just as the apostle Paul repeatedly asserts to us. For example..
Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began,
But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith:
To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ for ever. Amen. (Rom 16:25-27)
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: (Eph 3:1-6)
(See also I Cor. 2:6-8; Col. 1:25-27)
Therefore, this dispensation of Gentile grace must be something more than God simply dealing with Gentiles. And it is. And we need to be plain and clear on that so as to always adequately provide for the truth’s ability to expose mistaken ideas.
Properly defining this dispensation of grace, therefore, requires us to plainly describe its “mystery” character so that the uniqueness and distinctiveness of what God is doing today in contrast to His program with Israel clearly stands out. Such a definition would include such things as the following:
(1) This dispensation of Gentile grace was a “mystery” which God kept “hid in Himself” from the beginning of the world. It therefore was not known by the prophets and is not the subject of their prophecies.
(2) God revealed this new dispensation to and through His new apostle Paul. The apostleship of the 12 before Paul pertained to Israel in fulfillment of the prophets, and their commissioning by the Lord was in accordance with Israel’s program.
(3) God is dealing with the Gentiles today in spite of Israel and not through their agency at all. Israel’s program has been temporarily set aside by God and He is not now dealing with us Gentiles in accordance with it.
(4) This dispensation is a dispensation of God’s grace to us Gentiles. He is dealing with us purely on the basis of His grace and not in fulfillment of any covenant with us, nor in deference either to us or Israel. Instead God is graciously being longsuffering and offering salvation to us before He begins His day of judgment and wrath.
(5) In this dispensation God has made Jew and Gentile “both one” with “no difference” between them. The Gentiles “far off” status in “time past” does not now exist.
(6) In this dispensation God is making “one new man”; a “new creation” called the church the body of Christ. Its purpose with God pertains to the “heavenly places” and the reconciliation of that realm to Himself according to the “mystery of His will.”
There are other matters that also underscore the uniqueness and distinctiveness of this dispensation of Gentile grace, but these issues at least ought to be part of our proper definition of it. Instead of unintentionally lacking precision in our description of this dispensation, we need to be alert to the issue of being intentionally explicit. In view of Satan’s policy of evil against Christians which is designed to produce doctrinal confusion and corruption in the mind, and in view of the prevailing tendency among Christians to possess just vague and shallow understandings of Bible doctrine, it is essential that we do not inadvertently indulge either situation. Instead, through an accurate and precise speaking of the word of God, let us provide for the effectual working of it as we endeavor to stand for the truth 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.” — K. R. Blades