Several years ago, I read a story that has stayed with me. The author described an event in his family’s life, writing the following:
A few years ago Lisa and I took our four children on a day trip to Cunningham Falls State Park in Western Maryland. As we were leaving, a kind, elderly gentleman urged us not to head back toward Baltimore until we got a good look at the sky on what promised to be a crystal clear evening. “You’ll never be able to see such a pretty sight back in the city with all that haze and light pollution blocking your view,” he warned us. We gladly took his advice, stopping at a Dairy Queen drive-through and finding the nearest overlook off Route 70. We sat there in the fading light, finishing our cones, talking and anticipating the natural beauty we were about to behold. As dusk settled in, however, so did our grip on reality: we realized we wouldn’t have been able to see a meteor shooting ten feet away because we were looking through the smudged windshield of a well-used minivan belonging to a family with four small children.
Fortunately, with a little glass cleaner from the glove compartment and the roll of paper towels no family minivan should ever be without, Lisa was able to remove years of nasty film formed by the mysterious substances of childhood. In minutes, the glass was so clean that it blended imperceptibly with the world just outside. As the darkness of a summer evening fell, our family was mesmerized by the stunning splendor of a full moon, vivid in the western Maryland sky and set among what seemed like twice as many stars as there ought to be. We sat in speechless awe as the heavens declared God’s glory. And not once did anyone say, “What a beautifully clear windshield!”1Dutcher, Greg. Killing Calvinism: How to Destroy a Perfectly Good Theology from the Inside. United States: Cruciform Press, 2012, 13-14.
That story is such a great illustration of God’s purpose for the Church. Although we, as sinful human beings, are prone to smudge up the proverbial windshield, causing our focus to be hindered by many distractions, the Word of God provides us with a glorious picture of the grand, redemptive purpose God has given the Church. If we can simply catch a glimpse of that purpose, then it will radically transform and motivate us to effectively carry out our God ordained mission. There is arguably no better place to see that mission more clearly than in the book of Ephesians.
The Mystery has been Revealed for the Church
Beginning in chapter 3 of Paul’s letter, the Apostle writes:
For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel (Eph 3:1-6).
For the sake of context, a great deal of enmity and hostility existed between the Jews and Gentiles in Paul’s day. The Jews saw themselves as God’s chosen people. They viewed their standing as righteous before God and directly in the center of all his plans and purposes. Their view of the Gentiles, however, was just the opposite. Although they knew the promises God made to bless the Gentiles (Is 49:6), their predominate attitude was one of arrogance. Many saw their Gentile neighbors as nothing more than second-class citizens, at best. Against that backdrop, Paul wanted the church to understand that God has revealed a great mystery.
So, what is the mystery? It is that through the gospel, God has provided a way of reconciliation to all humanity, not just for the Jews but also for the Gentiles. In other words, Jews and Gentiles who savingly trust in Jesus are on equal footing before God. Now, for many Jews, this was entirely inconceivable. They couldn’t imagine a scenario in which they would be spiritually equal with the Gentiles. Yet, just as God revealed to Abraham, this was his plan all along (Gen 17:5-7, Gal 3:8). So, throughout redemptive history, God was revealing more and more about this mystery until it was fully unveiled in Christ. As Paul quoted from the prophet Hosea in the ninth chapter of Romans:
Those who were not my people I will call “my people,” and her who was not beloved I will call “beloved.” And in the very place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” there they will be called “sons of the living God” (Rom 9:25-26).
This should cause us to spring up with rejoicing! Apart from the mystery being revealed through the Apostle Paul, many of us would potentially still not know about the gospel, today. Therefore, our hearts should be overflowing with praise, honor, and adoration to our glorious God of grace.
The Mission has been Delivered to the Church
As Paul continues in verse 7, we realize that the Lord didn’t stop with the revealing of the mystery:
Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. 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 (Eph 3:7-9).
To put it simply, Paul understood his role in redemptive history. He recognized the magnitude of his mission. That mission was to proclaim the good news to the Gentiles, which declared that they too could be considered God’s chosen people through the gospel. Paul also understood the broader scope of his mission as well, namely, that God was going to use him as an instrument to bring to light for both Jews and Gentiles the mystery of the gospel which had been hidden for ages.
This phrase “bring to light” means to help someone see or understand. It’s like what happens after you’ve dusted off the furniture in a room, and then pulled back the curtains to let in the sunlight. All the sudden, as the beams of light from the sun coming pouring in through your window, you’re able to see particles of dust flying through the air, which were previously hidden in the darkness. For Paul, he had been called by the Lord to pull back the curtains, if you will. His purpose was to help the church understand what the ultimate plan of God’s mystery really was.
God is redeeming a people from every language, people group, and nation of the world (Rev 7:9). By his grace, he’s called the church to be the vehicle by which to carry out that mission. Therefore, he’s called us to take the gospel to both the wealthy and the poor, to those who are outwardly righteous and those who are outwardly rebellious, to those who are young and old, and to those who look like us and those who do not. Our mission is to be a beacon of life and hope, shining the light of the gospel into both the open areas and into every crack and crevice of the cities where we serve. Not only is it vitally important that we embrace that reality, but we should be profoundly grateful and humbled that God would call us to such a magnificent mission.
The Motivation has been Provided through the Church
As we consider the weightiness of God’s redemptive plan, Paul continues in verses 10-13:
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.
Paul, here, is taking us deeper into the mystery of the gospel. He’s bringing us to the most profound heights and depths of the gospel’s eternal purpose. Not only does it help us understand the purpose of the Church, but it also reveals the purpose of our existence, as human beings. It’s why we’re here. It’s what this world and this universe is all about. So, what we must ask ourselves is this: What is our motivation?
The Church should be Motivated by God’s Glory
From the most microscopic of molecules to the greatest of galaxies, we exist for the glory and honor of God. Thus, aside from any blessings we may receive, we should strive to share the good news and fulfill the gospel mission because of his glory. Once again, Paul says, in verse 10 of our text, that the eternal purpose of the gospel is “to make known the manifold wisdom of God.” In other words, the supreme intelligence, wisdom, creativity, and omniscience of God is infinitely greater than anything remotely related to the mundane or the ordinary. God is not boring. His wisdom is like a brilliant diamond with an infinite number of crown angles, each one displaying another facet of his splendor. No doubt, we will spend eternity discovering each one, and after a billion years, if we’re able to stop being mesmerized long enough to reflect upon all that we’ve discovered, we’ll quickly realize that we’ve not even begun to scratch the surface of who he is.
Even as God has revealed the glory of his wisdom and power through the beauty and design of creation, Paul writes that God is displaying the glory of his wisdom, in a more significant way, through the Church. Yet, to whom is God making the glory of his wisdom known? He says that it is “to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Eph 3:10). So, whether Paul has in mind the heavenly hosts who sing praises to God, or the angels of darkness who aligned with Satan, or both, there’s no way to know for sure. What we can say for sure is that the Church has been designed by God to be like a divine stage on earth, where the glory of God’s grace is put on display for all of heaven to see. In a way that God has never demonstrated before, he is using the Church to be a living illustration of the glory of his grace. This is why we must always remember that the Church does not exist for her own selfish purposes. She exists for the purpose of God’s glory. So, how do we fulfill that purpose?
The Church must Minister by God’s Grace
This is where the cosmic mission of the church comes into full view, as the glory of God connects with the grace of God. From the divine perspective, God has chosen to create human beings, knowing that we would sin against him, and that in order to forgive us of our sins, he would send his Son to die on the cross, and therefore glorify himself by showing us grace. The cross was not Plan B. It was always Plan A. Through that plan, the Church becomes like an angelic academy where God demonstrates and teaches the hierarchy of angels in heaven that he is an infinitely wise and gracious God.
From the human perspective, however, God is doing all of these amazing things through the message of the gospel. The Church, motivated by God’s glory and empowered by God’s grace, reaches out and impacts the lives of those around them by heralding the good news of what Jesus has done. According to his grace, God saves sinners and is glorified. This is why we exist as the church. This is our eternal purpose. May we come to realize the divine mystery of the gospel, be driven by the divine motivation of our calling, and more consistently and effectively carry out our mission, by God’s grace, and for God’s glory.
|Dutcher, Greg. Killing Calvinism: How to Destroy a Perfectly Good Theology from the Inside. United States: Cruciform Press, 2012, 13-14.