The last few days I’ve been drawn to Ephesians over and over again. A couple of days ago we were talking about Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians, which ended with: “And God placed all things under His feet and appointed Him to be head over everything for the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way.” (Eph 1:22-23)
All too often, even among Christians the church is viewed as maybe nice (if it’s a relatively good church), but rarely as necessary. Many who claim to be born again view the church as optional. If it meets your needs, that’s fine! But, if it doesn’t, then don’t bother with it. It’s really not that important in the overall scheme of things. Of course, in the world, the church has even less importance. The church wouldn’t make it into a list of the 50 most important matters facing America right now.
This marginalizing of the church seeps into our thinking, so that we miss God’s perspective and priority for His church. I have to be honest, I waver in this myself. The devil works to marginalize the church. We need to be careful who we are listening to! The church is like a human body. “It needs every part to function properly and if he can keep you away from the rest of the body, not only does he get you, but he also weakens the church.
What matters to God is the church. Christ said, “I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” (Matt. 16:18) That’s what He is doing. That’s where His focus lies. “Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). God’s eternal purpose centers on Christ and His church. If we want our lives to count for eternity, we’ve got to get God’s vision and purpose for the church and live accordingly. To stay away from the gathering of the brethren is in direct opposition to the Word!
Perhaps you’ve heard the story of three men who were working on a stone pile at a construction site. A curious passerby was eager to discover what was going on. He asked the first worker, “What are you doing?” “Chiseling stone,” was the reply. Trying for a better answer, he asked the second worker, “What are you doing?” “Earning a living.” Another washout.
He had one more hope. He asked the third worker, “Sir, what are you doing?” He dropped his sledgehammer, stood erect, and with a gleam in his eye exclaimed, “I’m building a great cathedral!”
All three men were doing the same job, but only one of them saw how his role fit into a larger, more important vision. Paul wants us to see how our lives fit into God’s glorious eternal purpose for His church. When we see this, it will help us very practically to deal with life’s difficult trials.
Since God’s eternal purpose is to make known His manifold wisdom through the church, we must pray and not lose heart in our trials. “to enlighten everyone about God’s secret plan—a secret that has been hidden for ages in God who has created all things. The purpose of this enlightenment is that through the church the multifaceted wisdom of God should now be disclosed to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly realms. This was according to the eternal purpose that He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and confident access to God because of Christ’s faithfulness.” (Eph 3:9-12)
God’s eternal purpose is to sum up all things in Christ. He is the centerpiece of history. All of the Old Testament looks forward to Christ. All of the New Testament testifies of Him. All of history will climax when He returns in power and glory to reign. Since He is the head of His body, the church, it is central to God’s purpose. It is in the church that God is bringing together both Jews and Gentiles, reconciling them to one another and to Himself through the cross (2:11-22). Paul says (3:8) that his ministry, in addition to preaching to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, is also (3:9) “to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things.” The Old Testament predicted the salvation of many Gentiles, but it did not reveal that God would unite them as one body with the Jews in the church, seat them with Christ in the heavenly places, and display His manifold wisdom through them throughout the ages.
To the fallen angels, the church, which exists because of Christ’s triumph at the cross, displays God’s wisdom and reminds them of their impending doom. The fallen angels thought that they had triumphed at the cross, but God displayed His wisdom by using that very means to gain ultimate and final victory (Col. 2:15).
Paul wants us to understand what a great privilege it is that God has chosen us to be the agents of carrying out His eternal purpose through the church, as we are members of the body. The church is not just a nice place to drop by on Sundays if you’re not doing anything more interesting! The church is God’s vehicle for making known His manifold wisdom, not only on earth, but also to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. So we must see how our lives count for eternity.
Because we are at the center of God’s eternal purpose, we must pray. “In Him and through faith in Him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. (3:12) Our focus in prayer should be, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). Prayer is to help advance God’s eternal purpose in Christ through His church. “Of all the blessings of Christian salvation none is greater than this, that we have access to God in prayer.” (Martyn Lloyd-Jones) We can come before God without fear of rejection or penalty, and with familiarity. It is only in Christ and through faith in Christ that we can approach God’s holy presence to ask Him for what we need to further His kingdom. Prayer is our means of seeing God’s eternal purpose enacted on earth.
Many Christians don’t commit themselves fully to the local church because they’re too focused on themselves and they don’t have the big picture. The church is at the center of how God wants to change the world. It is His eternal purpose to display His manifold wisdom through the church. We should respond by committing ourselves to it and praying for God to use it mightily. We should be willing to endure hardship to see it become all that God wants it to be.
It’s too easy in this day and time to listen to a podcast or watch a sermon on TV, and to forego a meeting with the brethern. Are you a member of a body of believers who meet regularly? If not, what excuse do you have that the Lord will accept? I admit, I’ve been wishy-washy on my attendance. Today’s Scripture definitely held up the mirror to my life, showing me where I need to change so that I will be aligned with the Lord’s purpose. I’m not fully happy with how my church operates. This Scripture just told me that especially because I’m not happy with it, I must commit to the church. If you are a member, how would your church be different if you got a vision of God’s eternal purpose?