I am preaching tomorrow (Sunday the 10th of August) on the subject listed in the header. I am posting the full sermon text here, if you want to trudge through it. I will also put a separate post with just my thesis and the implications for those of you who, like me, want to get the point and then move on!
August 10, 2008 – Ephesians 3:7-13 – God’s Vision of the Church: Global and Local Implications
Its my pleasure to be with you all this morning. There have been countless Sunday mornings this last year that Bethany and I have missed this particular fellowship. We have really missed worshiping together, praying together, and really just being part of your lives.
My message this morning is entitled “God’s vision of the Church: Global and Local Implications”. Ultimately this is the thing that the Lord has set on my heart during the last year as my wife and I served with African Bible College in Malawi.
Thesis: If God’s glory is the ultimate end of history, and He directs all events in history for His own glory, then the flow of history is centered around the Church.
If God’s glory is the ultimate end of history, his primary means of accomplishing this is through the church.
If God’s glory is the ultimate end of history, the very epicenter of His glory is in the church.
This is a staggering point, and I want to make sure we have our heads around it. We believe that the whole direction of human history and existence is being driven by our Father in heaven. Every event bears some portion of the ultimate meaning that God is bringing about through his shepherding of history. Planets exist for his glory. Whole galaxies exist which we will never see, and won’t ever know about which exist simply for God’s own pleasure in Himself. Yet, all this being true, on very center stage of the drama of God’s actions and providence in history is none other than the church. Not governmental organizations. Not the greatest learners of all time, nor their discoveries. Not the economy, nor all the benefits we derive from it. Instead, when the veil is pulled back, who do you see but the boring, old, sinful church wearing the wedding dress as the bride of Christ. She is the one God cares about, more than anything else in creation, and she is the One He is using to reveal Himself to the world!
To see this we will be reading three different passages in Ephesians. We are going to be looking at three different aspects of the church.
1. One Body – Unity in the Cross – Who Eph 2:11-22
2. One Purpose – Center of God’s Will – What Eph 3:7-13
3. One Means – Faithful Ministry – How Eph 4:11-16
1. One Body – WHO
READ Eph 2:11-22 with comment
In the context of our election in Christ, purchased by his death on the Cross, Paul moves on to what he considers the great mystery of all time: In Christ all peoples are made one. That is to say, the church is made up of people from all different economic strati, cultural, ethnic backgrounds, as well as time periods. In the church it is not only okay, but right and good to have a person with a Ph.D from a very well rooted family, making 6 figures a year, sitting right next to a person who has lived in this country for less than 6 months, is a brand new refugee from Ethiopia, or Burma, and works as a janitor.
Christ’s death on the cross was God’s tool not only to redeem individuals, but to redeem a whole people calling them to forsake their previous identities as they are brought into the new nation, the Church.
Thus, when we meet we proclaim that we are “no longer aliens and strangers, but [we] are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Eph. 2:19).
Many groups in our day have taken on the goal of global human unity. They believe it will be reached by pursuing various goals, whether this is explicitly stated or not
GOOD GOALS: such as ending poverty, fighting global hunger, fighting AIDS or Malaria, developing poor nations, environmental regeneration/preservation
TRIVIAL GOALS: bikes, motorcycles, boating, hiking, books, education, sex, music, money, sports
As well it is common to hear that if you are not on board with this project of global unity centered on commitments other than Christ, then you are self-righteous since you promote something which is actually divisive.
Yet, brothers and sisters, what is interesting is that here we are told that until we are reconciled to God the Father through Jesus, we are strangers and aliens in the world. So no matter what amount of unity we may have in our national identity, or in the causes we work toward, or the interests which occupy our time, we are still strangers “having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). If we are unreconciled to God, we are still enemies of our neighbors, and enemies to ourselves. This is the misery of the life lived apart from God; despite all effort to pull it together we are hopelessly damned to fail, and to live as wanderers in a world that is our enemy.
However, brothers and sisters, this is the what is so glorious about the Church. The only people welcome in the church are those who know that by themselves they are forever lost. The Church is made up of sinners and rebels. Yet these sinners and rebels are ones who have given up the fight against God, who have stopped fighting for their own name’s glory. These sinners and rebels are those who having died in Christ, are washed clean from their sins and made new in Christ. The Church is made up of those who are more than happy to trade in all the things that give them significance in the world simply to be called the children of God. Our national identity, our economic stratus, our cultural background take on trivial significance in light of the glorious redemption we are a part of in Christ.
This was originally written to a church made up of Jews and Greeks. Yet we see very clearly that what Paul tells them has to do with us as well; if we are in Christ then we together and indvidually we are a new creation. God has done this
“that he might create in himself one new man in the place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility” (Eph. 2:15-16)
The Church “being joined together grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” (Eph. 2:21) Paul makes it very clear that in the midst of our one body God comes to dwell in a special way; His glory is made known through our corporate body in a very special way.
Studying church history will quickly reveal the truth in this: the Church was originally composed of Jews from Jerusalem and Hellenized Jews in town for Pentecost. From their it grew rapidly in the hellenized Roman Empire, and spread down into Northern Africa, Persia and India. In fact some of the greatest theologians and minsters of the church in the first 4 centuries were from Northern Africa. Later on the church grew and moved into 9th century China, 11th century Russia, and continued to grow in Nubia and Ethiopia. All throughout European history we see the church persistent and present in all social classes and amidst all different nations. The church is the most metropolitan body of people throughout all history. AND when the Church has been faithful to her calling she can’t help but be noticed by the world for her outstanding love for both her members and her neighbors.
We have looked at who the church is made up of, but now I want us to look into why the church is made. What is the Lord’s intent with the body of believers?
2. One Purpose – WHY
READ Eph. 3:7-13 with comment
7-8 – really this is the exact same thing as what we just looked at.
The gospel that Paul is talking about here is just what we have already looked at; regardless of your worldly identity, the Father has called you out of the world, and out of your sin to be a member of His body in Christ.
Paul emphasizes yet another aspect of our calling in Christ as exemplified in his own calling; he was the very least of the saints because he was formerly a persecutor of them. Paul sees himself as CONTRIBUTING NOTHING to his own salvation and his own ministry; it is all given to Paul by the working of God’s power. This is what Paul has in mind when he talks about the unsearchable riches of Christ; we who were once enemies of God have now been made his children because of Christ.
9 – Paul tells us that his preaching is being used to bring to light what God’s plan (or oikonomia) is in history. Paul has been commissioned with making clear to all people, everyone, what God has purposed and accomplished in Christ, and, as Paul goes onto say, in the Church.
10 – God is revealing His plan for redemption in history to all creation so that THROUGH the Church His wisdom would be made known. Moreover, God is primarily interested in manifesting His wisdom to the heavenly rulers and forces. THIS IS A COSMIC, UNIVERSAL, AND HEAVENLY PURPOSE.
ekklesia – One thing we need to mention from the start is that I am just going to assume that we are all on the same page as in our understanding of what the Church is. The word Paul uses simply means “assembly” or “gathering”. In fact, this is the same word that Plato, and other Ancient Athenians used to describe the voting body, the members of the democracy in Athens. It was a political body.
SO, I will leave to Eric and the elders the job of clearly defining this word
11 – Paul tells us that this plan culminated, came to its climax in the person of Christ
12 – 13 – It is for this cosmic plan of redemption that Paul willingly suffers.
This is the new piece of the puzzle. Paul’s task of preaching and making clear God’s plan in Christ is given to him so that THROUGH THE CHURCH IT WOULD BE MADE KNOWN TO HEAVENLY RULERS AND AUTHORITIES. The Father used Christ to make a new people SO THAT He would reveal His glory through them.
NOTE: Spiritual Realm
All of this fits well with our confession that our chief end is to glorify and enjoy God forever. Yet if we look carefully there is an extra bit to this.
This text seems slightly strange to most westerners. We usually think, “who else is there to show God’s glory besides men? What do heavenly rulers and authorities have anything to do with the gospel?” Most westerners think of the spiritual realm as superstition.
Most Africans, however, would not think it to be strange to talk about the spiritual realm. A Malawian friend of mine made very clear to me a while back that all Malawians are very ‘spiritual,’ though not necessarily Christian. The spiritual realm is alive and well in Malawi; it is a very present reality for all who live there. Many believers in the church have actually come out from the world of witchcraft. Very sober minded men, who love the Lord dearly have told me stories of supernatural things happening that sent chills through my spine.
In our day and age it is ‘modern’, or ‘objectively scientific’ to talk about demons and spirits as superstitious. Of course there are some serious problems with talking about scientific knowledge as the only kind of knowledge. But leaving that aside it is important to recognize that the Scriptures live in the world of demons, Satan, angels and the Spirit. While this is fine for the world to disregard all of this, for us to talk like this is to speak against the Scripture. We believe that we live in a spiritual world, filled with angels who serve the Lord, and demons who are bent on derailing the Lord’s work.
Amazingly, what Paul tells us is that we are caught up in the middle of this spiritual war. In fact, God has designed it so that we, the body of Christ, will be used as HIS SPECIAL INSTRUMENT. We are the means by which God manifests His glory to those who fight against Him, making clear to them that there is no hope apart from God.
So, brothers and sisters, God is using the Church to make clear to all those spiritual rulers and authorities, that He has won. God is using the Church as a beacon, a light to all of heaven and hell, that in Christ He has accomplished salvation and redemption. Paul even tells us in Ephesians 2:1-2;
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience…”
We were once slaves to sin, and so followed Satan. Yet, God has plucked us out to be given His grace. He has loved us and made us partakers of the promise, members of one body, the Church. And He did this in order to make clear to all heaven and hell that His wisdom is greater than all the schemes of the devil and of men.
You would think that since it is such a spiritual battle, God would use angels to do His will. After all, angels are spirits, and they see things much clearer than we do. We are the ones who are in trouble. We are the ones who are helpless, and were enslaved to sin. How much more efficient and quick would the battle be if God had simply used angels.
Yet, He didn’t. He chose us, lowly, weak, sinful, arrogant vessels to accomplish His mission.
More importantly He chose to USE US AS THE CHURCH. We are bad on our own, and yet we are even worse when we come together. We treat each other poorly, bite off each other’s heads. We are distracted with our own lives and are slow to work for anyone else’s benefit.
We as the Church, many times, are a greater picture of dysfunction and sin than other groups in the world are. Church history is also full of examples of this: the Crusades, the eastern and western schism, the life of luxury, heinous public sin, and corruption that so many of the popes led, the wars in Ireland, the colonization of native peoples for the sake of spreading high culture which was justified under the Christian flag, the mass holocaust of Jews under Christian Nazi Germany, the enslavement of Africans and their children done by our forefathers in the USA, not to mention the affirmation of racism in our denomination in the past!! AND THE LIST GOES ON AND ON
You can all think of times of times even within this church where you have clashed not only in frustration, but in bitter resentment, in actual hatred. We have all done this.
APOLOGY: For those of you who are not believers, to you I want to apologize for this. There is no way we can ever make reprimands for any of this. We simply ask your forgiveness for us sinners.
FORGIVE ALL THIS YOU MAY, BUT IT IS STILL IMPOSSIBLE TO RECONCILE OUR HISTORY WITH THE STATEMENT: through the church the manifold wisdom of God might be made known to the rulers and authorities in heavenly places!!!!
HOW CAN WE EVER RECONCILE THESE TWO THINGS?
IT IS HIS GLORY, NOT THE CHURCH’S THAT IS MANIFESTED
The weaker and more difficult the tool, the greater the strength, ability and glory of the one who uses it to accomplish something.
“For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:25)
GOD SHOWS HIMSELF TO BE GREAT BY USING THE CHURCH FOR HIS ENDS. ONLY A GREAT AND WISE GOD COULD USE THE CHURCH TO MANIFEST HIS WISDOM TO ALL CREATION.
“…to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Eph. 3:21)
3. One Means – How
READ Eph. 4:11-16
11- While some want to use this verse to argue that apostles and prophets still exist, and that new revelation is still occurring, it is almost impossible to make that case when we consider the rest of Ephesians. Paul speaks of the Apostles and Prophets in two other points, Eph 2:20, and 3:5. Both of these speak of these particular gifts as one time events; either as the foundation of the church, or the one time recipient of the Gospel. I will leave that aside.
That then leaves us with evangelists and pastors. God uses these men for the benefit of the Church. They are the means of God’s work for the Church. They long to produce a mature and healthy Church. These are the men, who like Timothy don’t serve their own interests, but those of Christ, and so are willing to minister in patience to the Church that she might be faithful and mature.
12 – God gave these men to the Church IN ORDER TO EQUIP THE SAINTS FOR THE WORK OF THE MINISTRY. The work of the pastor and the evangelist is to build up the saints so that they would do the work of the ministry. The saints, not pastors, are the ones who do the main work of the Church.
Unless the saints enter into the daily basic and hard work of the ministry, the mission will not be accomplished. God has designed the layman to be the clearest picture of the gospel to the world.
13-16 – This is Paul’s vision of maturity. It is important that we remember that one of the primary characteristics in Paul’s mind is that the body of Christ builds itself up in love. In some ways, Paul is saying that the ministry of the Church is simply to love your neighbor as yourself.
THE WHOLE POINT OF PASTORAL MINISTRY IS TO EQUIP THE PEOPLE OF GOD TO DO THE WORK OF THE MINISTRY IN UNITY. That is the point of our passage in Ephesians 4. God gave these men to the Church so that she might be made mature, and USEFUL. God is determined to use the Church to glorify Him.
So, if you want to be of significant use in the Kingdom of God, and you can’t be a pastor, then be the Church.
The Church’s ministry, Paul tells us, is exemplified in loving unity. Look at v 15-16 with me:
“Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is EQUIPPED, when each part is working properly makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Eph. 4:15-16)
The picture Paul gives us here is one of a beautiful body, working in unison. Love of your brother or sister in the Church is what grows the Church into her beautiful, holy self that the Lord wants her to be. Your primary ministry as a member of the Church, is to be the most loving welcoming community there is in the world. BY FORGIVING, LOVING, SERVING, PRAYING FOR, UPLIFTING, AND ENCOURAGING THOSE IN YOUR LOCAL CHURCH COMMUNITY, and outside it, YOU BECOME THE GREATEST PICTURE OF THE GOSPEL THERE IS.
A Church with a godly pastor, which is full of people who bite each others head’s off is not a God-glorifying, kingdom expanding church. That is a dead church. That is an easy church to be. There has never been a shortage of that kind of church. The reason is clear. The members of the church are just as sinful as you, and in just as much need of grace as you; so there will always be difficulty.
BUT, if you are as gracious to your brother or sister in Christ, as the Father has been to you in Christ, then God’s glory is made great because His gospel is made clear. Your sacrificial love to your neighbor is the clearest picture to the world that Jehovah is the Living God, and has accomplished salvation in Christ.
God glorifies Himself when you love your neighbor because you love God.
You may have noticed by this point that I am continually harping on the Church being this and that. You might be saying to yourself, is the Church the only thing God uses for His purpose in the world? What about charities, and other non-governmental organizations? Aren’t these also about God’s work?
To this I will say; right you are. BUT, GOD’S PRIMARY MEAN OF ACCOMPLISHING HIS MISSION IN THE WORLD IS THROUGH THE Church. While the Lord in his providence uses other means such as governments and charities, even unbelievers, none of these are center stage in God’s will. This is the great wonder of our main text, Eph 3:7-13. It says that God is using the Church to accomplish his cosmic goal. Paul doesn’t mention anything else; the Church stands above and beyond all other means in the world.
This is the great difficulty that many of us find ourselves in, we love the church and see it as important in the Lord’s economy. Yet, because of people’s sin against us, our own burden of sin, as well the general difficulty of accomplishing anything lasting for the people of God, we often draw back from the hard work in front of us. Most of us, I would guess, are fine with saying that the Church is the primary means that God uses to accomplish his mission. However, if our lives were to be examined, it would be clear in many cases, that we hope to be faithful apart from the Church.
I don’t think I can count the number of people I have met, whether in Seattle, Issaquah, Tennessee or Malawi, who have said to me that they see the importance of the church but are burnt out. I don’t bring this up to diminish the real exasperation, or plain fatigue that exists, but to simply rally evidence for this one point: the Church has been, is and forever will be messed up because she is filled with people like us, sinners.
Brothers and sisters, the Lord knows what difficulty there is in serving his body, yet He is calling you to it. The good news is that he not only commands, but also gives what he commands. All the strength, compassion, endurance, and hope you need to serve the Lord faithfully is given by the very same Lord you serve.
With this in mind, I want to turn to two particular areas of application.
LOCAL: The corporate health of the body of believers is of primary importance, over and above charity work.
When the body of believers is functioning properly, it will naturally take on mercy ministry, and charity work as a right outflow. Locally, your lives individually and corporately are the manifestation of God’s Love and Mission.>>> What this does is reorient our thinking from accomplishments in ministry, to character.
Hospitality takes on a whole new look. It takes on great importance because it is essential to the church being the faithful church.
Corporate and brotherly confession is newly significant since it becomes the rhythm of our life together. We pray with each other and for each other as we fight against our besetting sins. And yes, I mean confessing actual sins; and yes, you commit actual sins.
Unity becomes not simply a nice ideal, but a crucial component of faithfulness within the body. Your bitterness against other people in this congregation is a doorway for the devil to rip the body in two. Killing dissension is now essential because it enables us to go and serve and proclaim the gospel in freedom.
GLOBAL: pray for your brothers and sisters through VOM. Support ministries that serve the global church.
There are many organizations out there who are already working for the development and good of third world nations. This work is good and fine, but it is not the most important. Make the first things the first things.
The most important work, I will venture, we can about in the world is partnering, investing, and fellowshipping with our sister churches in these needy lands. Not in a colonial spirit of paternalism, thinking ourselves more righteous. Instead, our relationship with our sister churches throughout the globe ought to be one of harmony in the Spirit, and joint encouragement.
I think of Paul recounting his visit with the other Apostles in Jerusalem saying that once they recognized that Paul was given the same gospel, and was commissioned to the Gentiles just as Peter had been to the Jews, that they gave him the right hand of fellowship.
A great example of this is Davison Chifungu. He is an ABC Graduate, and yet now serves in the second most important position in the the Presbyterian Church in Malawi. He recently visited the NW PCA, and even spoke at Greenlake about the great needs and numbers in our local synod. The NW PCA and a presbytery of the EPC in the south paid for his trip our to the States so that they could develop a deeper bond and fellowship with this brother and his church. This is the global church fellowshipping, and building itself up in love.
SHAMELESS PLUG: AFRICAN BIBLE COLLEGE… after all, who else will do it?
ABC trains African men and women in their own countries to be godly pastors, and godly lay leaders IN THE CHURCH. Many of its graduates do go on to serve in other capacities, such as business or NGOs. But the main purpose of ABC is to raise up a generation of leaders who will invest and lead the church in godliness.
This is probably one of the best works you can support, and become involved with, as many of you already have.
This is the mission of ABC, please pick up our update letter, and check out the ABC website.
CLOSING: The hope we have is this, The Lord will do all He promised. Whether through us, or in spite of us, He will glorify Himself through the Church!