THE VALUE OF THE CHURCH (II)

“To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.”

In this statement, (vs. 8-13), Paul gives two reasons for which the revelation (grace) had been given to him (1) that he “should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ,” and (2) “make all men see what is the fellowship (or stewardship, dispensation – his part) and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery.” The ultimate intent or purpose of the revelation is stated in verse 10; “…so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Wherever the church exists in the full expression of it’s divinely intended role in His plan for the universe, people are going to know that it is there and what it is about. Christians do not have to “blow a trumpet in the streets” before themselves to announce their presence and their self-perceived role in society. It will reflect the glory of God. It cannot be hidden.

The church was no afterthought as the premillenialists suppose. It was God’s purpose in bringing the church into being to declare, manifest or make known His wisdom by its existence, its character and it’s functioning in the society in which it exists. And it was in accordance with the divine purpose that Paul, who was imprisoned and in chains (3:1; 6:20), and who considered himself to be less than the least of all the saints, was appointed to preach the mystery. The conclusion he wants the saints to draw was that his trouble, though it was because of his having preached to them, was just a part of the job and well worth whatever it might cost him since it was appointed to him to also have “fellowship” in the mystery. He counted it a high honor to be persecuted and imprisoned for the gospel. He saw his affliction as something necessary, something God has decreed.

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church,” (Colossians 1:24).

According to Paul, his sufferings were but the consequence, the essential, unavoidable extension of Christ’s suffering. Jesus said that His disciples would be hated.

Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.” (Matthew 24:9).

Men hated Jesus. He came as light into the world and men loved the darkness of their sin rather than light.

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5).

Paul wanted these Christians to know that his suffering in their behalf was for their glory and he didn’t want them becoming discouraged over it. How was it for their glory? In that they knew they were doing right before God. They had believed what Paul had preached to them and he was suffering, imprisoned by a wicked and cruel government. He had preached the gospel of the power of God – the gospel that would transform the whole world. They had believed that gospel and had been transformed by it. They were living out the gospel in a new kind of society – the church – the community of the redeemed. In time they would suffer for their faith as well. But in suffering for what was right they would receive the praise of God.

What we should emphasize in all this is that the revealed mystery, (in this context the acceptance of the Gentiles), the appointment of Paul to preach it and the accomplished reality of its having been preached, (the existence of the church at Ephesus being evidence), all serve to reveal God’s wisdom and power to the “principalities and powers in the heavenly places.” The fact that His will was being done on the earth was a way of saying to these powers that God is in control. It was saying to the Roman Empire that Jesus was King and Caesar was not. Obviously this was a message that would not go over well with Rome. It is a message that does not go over well with any earthly government – even to this day.

What was of particular application to the Ephesians and also to us is this; that God is wise and desires to demonstrate His wisdom to the universe through His new creation, the church. In fact, God has chosen to demonstrate all His attributes by the same means. He does this, not from a selfish motive or by using men in a hurtful, self-motivated way, but by wisely acting for man’s benefit and happiness in doing for man what he needs. Everything heaven has to offer He has given to His people.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,” (Ephesians 1:3).

What a great honor God bestows upon man that He chooses to glorify Himself by what He does for man’s best interest! How greatly we should strive to cooperate with God in the accomplishment of His purpose of self-revelation! It is to our glory that we do so.

How does our perception of the church square with what Paul writes here? How are we today letting the “principalities and powers” in the heavenly places know that God rules in the whole world through His Son who sits at His right hand? Would we rather that the church be popular with people and well accepted by the authorities? How many of us are being persecuted and imprisoned because we are so plainly and forcefully making His kingdom rule known?

We may not live in a world that does that to Christians – yet. But it may not be as far away as we think. If it does come to that, will we still let the principalities and powers know that God rules over the kingdoms of men – like the church of the 1st century did?

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