Ephesians 3:1 – 13
What is the point of church?
What is the point of church? It’s a question I’m sure that just about all of us have considered at some point. If you’re regular here at Trinity, I’m sure you’ve asked that question, at some point! If you’re new with us this morning, thank you for being here, we’re so pleased to have you with us, and I’m absolutely confident that you’ve given that question some thought, otherwise you wouldn’t have turned up this morning!
What’s the point of church?! No doubt it’s a question that has at least crossed Darren and Jude’s minds, sometime during the last 3 years, and probably especially in the few months!
And, you know, there are times when that question becomes more focussed. If you’re on the setup team, in the middle of winter, when your alarm goes off at 6:30 on a Sunday morning, and it’s minus 2 degrees outside, I have absolutely no doubt that the question, “What’s the point of church?” passes through your mind, as you drag yourself out of bed!
Well, today we’re going to spend some time considering “the church.” Specifically, God’s intention for the church. Now, usual pattern in looking at the Bible together here at Trinity, is to work systematically though different parts of the Bible, so we would only come to Ephesians chapter 3, after we’ve been in Ephesians chapter 1 and chapter 2.
Occasionally, like today, we do something a little different, and so we’ve just jumped in to chapter 3 of this letter from the Apostle Paul, and we’re going to focus on verse 10, but in order to understand that, we’ll have to look a little wider in this section.
The church is the result of a mystery
These verses are a bit of a detour, in the flow of Paul’s argument in this section, but the first thing we learn here, is that the church has been brought into existence, as the result of a mystery. Verse 2, Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly.
Not a mystery, of the Hercules Poirot, Sherlock Holmes variety, that is, look hard enough, piece together the clues and you’ll be able to figure it out!
No, mystery in the Bible, means something that once was unknown, and unknowable, that is now made known, revealed, by God.
That is, it’s a little closer to how we would use the word secret.
If I have a secret, it’s something that you don’t know.
“There’s $50 hidden under the lectern here, shh!”, well now you know, but we can still call it our secret, can’t we? You only know about it because I’ve told you.
God revealed this mystery to Paul, verse 3, made known by revelation, on the road to Damascus when Paul was confronted by the risen Lord Jesus.
But in that event, as God called Paul to faith in Christ, and simultaneously, set him apart as the Apostle, the messenger to the Gentiles, to the nations who weren’t the Jews, God made known to Paul a mystery, something that previously was hidden.
The content of this mystery is there in verse 6,
This mystery is that through the gospel, the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.
That’s an infinitely better secret that $50 hidden under the lectern! God is building both Jews and Gentiles into his church, as they come under the sound of the gospel of Jesus!
Now, I’m sure that many of us have known a mystery, been in on a secret, and desperately wanted to blab it.
I got a text message from someone just on Friday. It was good news, and immediately I thought, “Who can I tell?”
That’s normally what happens if the secret we’re told is good news, isn’t it?
A new relationship,
A new job,
A new baby,
A new associate pastor!
When it becomes known to us, we want to share it with others, and Paul was no different.
His whole life became centred on the making known of this mystery,
And he sees it as a great kindness of God, the grace of God at work, that he is able to be so wholly focussed on this task, of seeing Jews and Gentiles coming together to be the church of God, in fulfilment of God’s plan, this mystery, and as they hear the good news of Jesus.
See verse 8, it’s all of God’s grace. 8 Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ,
Paul never let the fact that a word didn’t exist, get in the way of him making his point!, and so here he makes up a new word.
Literally, he says, “I am, the leaster!” “Find the least, go down from there, and that’s where you’ll find me!” Paul says.
“You think you’ve got a history?” Paul says. “I tried to wipe out Christianity.”
And yet to Paul, the leaster of all God’s people, God opened up his secret, that the boundless riches of Christ are available to all.
God has a clear intention for the church:
But now that God has gathered to himself this group of people, who, verse 10, he calls the church, what is his plan for it?
I’m sure that most of us are familiar with the expression, “Better to be silent and be thought a fool, than to speak, and remove all doubt.”
Perhaps something that some of us ought to take to heart!, but think for a moment if you will, about the opposite of that; If someone is wise, how does that become known?
How is wisdom demonstrated?
Well, I would imagine, that if I thought I were wise, and I wanted my wisdom to be known and demonstrated, hypothetically speaking, think I would choose someone respected, impressive, perhaps even someone more wise than me, to let other people know about my wisdom!
That makes sense, doesn’t it?
But how does God choose for his wisdom to be made known?
He uses the church.
It’s through the church, verse 10, that the manifold wisdom of God, is made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms,
… to make known his wisdom,
Manifold, in this instance, isn’t part of the exhaust system of a car, it means many sided, multi-faceted.
So Homer, the ancient Greek poet, used this word to describe objects that were multi-coloured;, warrior’s shields that were so highly polished that when the sun struck them they reflected all the colours of the rainbow.
And in fact there’s an example that’s probably familiar to most of us:, this is the word used in the Old Testament, in the book of Genesis, to describe Joseph’s ornate coat, his techinicolor dream coat, as Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice taught us!
That’s the way to describe the wisdom of God.
God’s wisdom is multi-faceted, techicolour!
Now, wisdom is different to knowledge, isn’t it?
You know what they say, Knowledge, is recognising that a tomato is a fruit.
Wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad.
God’s wisdom is his ability to plan, and purpose, his ability to harness all things, in order to bring his plans and purposes about.
And there are innumerable aspects of God’s wisdom, which are made visible through the church.
Every part of the process of salvation for example, sees the wisdom of God through the church:
The commissioning of Paul and others, including others today!, as messengers of the gospel of Jesus, displays the wisdom of God, as he works deliberately towards the fulfilment of his plans and purposes established before the creation of the world.
The foolishness, as Paul says in his first letter to the Corinthians of the message of a crucified saviour.
That displays the wisdom of God, as all other means and efforts for salvation are put to shame, by the message of a God who offers himself, in the place of those who were rebelling against him.
The process of redemption, seen at work in the life of the church, upsets all human conceptions of wisdom, and makes known God’s wisdom.
That is true, but in this context, Paul has in mind particularly, God’s wisdom in bringing the church, this diverse body together, from among the Jews and Gentiles.
The cricket fans among us might remember the 2005 ICC Super Series, when Australia played, the rest of the world. All of the world was divided into those 2 categories; Australia, and everyone else.
That was the division between Jews and Gentiles. But of course, not just in cricket, but in everything!
At the time Paul’s writing this, Jewish men prayed every day, as countless thousands still do, actually, their Morning Prayer,
Blessed are you, God, King of the Universe, for not having made me a Gentile,
And yet, in God’s wisdom, this mystery has been made known, that the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, verse 6, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.
The scholars talk about the church existing as a “third race.”
Once in the world, there were Jews, and there were Gentiles. But now, in the church, there is a new race, where neither Jewish nor Gentile identity matters.
For Paul here, it is exactly this that displays the manifold, technicolour wisdom of God.
No wonder, that he is so humbled at the task entrusted to him ;, preaching the gospel to the Gentiles! As, verse 5, people come to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, God’s manifold, technicolour wisdom is made known!
It is through the preaching of the gospel, by people like Paul, that God draws people into the church, builds his church,
It’s through the preaching of the gospel, that the Gentiles come to be united with Jesus Christ, the Jewish Messiah, and in him, come to inherit the promises, promises of blessing, promises of God’s presence.
It is through the church,
It is through the preaching of the gospel of Jesus, the mystery of Christ, that Jews and Gentiles were both united to Christ, and therefore united to each other.
It’s through Christianity, through people saved from sin and death by Jesus that the wisdom of God can be seen most clearly, and plainly, and magnificently.
And through this, the manifold, technicolour, wisdom of God is made known. You may have noticed the passive language,
It’s God himself, who makes his manifold wisdom known through the church.
But which church?
But which church is Paul talking about?
This here is a church, a gathering of God’s people, but this is not the sum total of the church.
Is Paul saying that we’re the ones through whom God’s wisdom is made known?
Earlier in the letter, Paul has pictured a heavenly gathering around Christ Jesus, and that gathering is called the church.
And that spiritual gathering isn’t just something that Christian people enter into when they die, it’s a gathering that we participate in now!
If you were here just before Christmas you might remember I mentioned someone I know who lived in London, and discovered that the line of zero longitude ran right through his house. And so he stuck a sign in the front yard telling people on the footpath where they could stand, so that they could literally have a foot in 2 hemispheres!
Well Paul says, Christian people are one better than that!
We are members of the church here, we are gathered as God’s people in this world, but we are also simultaneously, part of this heavenly gathering, around Christ, seated with him in the heavenly realms.
Which one is the church, through which God’s manifold wisdom is made known?
This one or the heavenly one?
Well it’s both!
This new relationship of Jews and Gentiles gathered spiritually around Christ, is represented,
Is worked out,
Is manifested, through the gathering of those same believers, Jews and Gentiles on earth.
When God’s people gather on earth, it’s a visible manifestation of the gathering that is already taking place in heaven.
So it is us!
It is Trinity Mount Barker,
It is this gathering of God’s people, and other gatherings like this, of God’s people, diverse people, united in Christ,
It is through churches just like this, churches that are concrete, visible expressions of the relationship that we enjoy with Jesus, that the manifold wisdom of God is made known.
Is that what you came here for today?
Is that what you expected when you rolled out of bed this morning?
“I’m going to go and gather,
Meet with brothers and sisters, people both like me and unlike me, who in God’s wisdom, have been drawn together through the preaching of the gospel of Jesus,
And in gathering together with them, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known”
Is that what you thought when the alarm went off this morning?
What did you think was going to happen, when God’s people gathered today?
Did you think, “There will be a commissioning.”
“It will be long.”
“I’ll get to see my friends”,
“I might have to talk to someone I don’t like.”
Or did we think, today the manifold wisdom of God should be made known
When we start new gatherings and plant new churches, do we consider, “there is a new community, through which God longs to make known his manifold, technicolour wisdom?
See, even before a song is sung,
Before anything is read,
Before the first word of the sermon is spoken,
Before even the first chair is put out, at 7:30 AM,
Through the church, the manifold wisdom of God is made known.
As I said, the things that Paul does, the things that the church does, those actions display the manifold wisdom of God, but primary to any of that, Paul has his eye on the church’s very existence.
The fact that God has brought together, through the death of Christ in the place of rebellious humility, both Jews and Gentiles, there most simply, is the display of God’s wisdom.
Sure, if a church really is a reflection of that heavenly gathering, it will normally do all those things sing, read the Bible, hear the Bible explained. Someone will probably even put out the chairs, as means of serving their brothers and sisters, to whom they have been united in Christ, and that does display God’s wisdom. Come at 7:30 next Sunday to see God’s wisdom displayed.
But first and foremost it is the church’s very existence, by which God makes his wisdom known.
… to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.
Now, we need to remember that God has other purposes for the church, besides what we’re told here, but God’s stated purpose for the church, here in Ephesians 3, is to make his wisdom known, particularly, to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms,
Paul said back up in verse 9 that he had the great privilege of making known to everyone, the good news of Jesus,
He’s spoken specifically of preaching to the Gentiles, verse 8.
But God’s goal is broader than just that.
God’s intention for the church, is to declare to the angels and to the spiritual powers, his manifold, technicolour wisdom.
This language, rulers and authorities refers to both good and evil, spiritual forces.
That’s our audience, if you like.
And while we recognise that no person is capable, of figuring out God’s purposes for salvation, it is only by God making himself known to us, that we can be drawn into his plans, perhaps what we haven’t thought about, is that equally, no spiritual being, no angel, can discern God’s manifold, technicolour wisdom!
What is made known about God through the church, is news to the angels.
They get to look upon God! We read at Christmas time, they stand in the very presence of God,
They announce God’s good news!
And yet they are amazed and staggered, when they comprehend God’s wisdom, made known through the church.
at what they see in the church.
The spiritual forces, and let me say, and if you’re new to Christian things, I get, that to acknowledge spiritual forces might sound a bit odd, but the Bible is clear that these forces exist, and it’s a reality, well, we have to admit, that makes perfect sense of the world we experience,
These spiritual forces look at the church, they look at the results, the outcome, of the message entrusted to Paul,
The message entrusted to Christian people today, including those who we as a church set aside especially, to be freed up for the ministry of proclaiming the gospel,
Those spiritual beings look at the outcome of the gospel message, and that’s how they see God’s eternal purposes and manifold wisdom.
I used to go with a team each year, to the Body, Mind and Psychic Expo. And every year, we’d speak with countless people who were trying to make contact with spiritual forces.
And it seemed that each year there was a new, well I want to use the word scam, that was popular, where stallholders would, for a hefty fee,
Claim to connect you with the spiritual world,
Identify your guardian angel,
Or put you in contact with your spirit guide,
All, as far as I could tell, for the purpose of finding out something!
And your heart breaks as you hear the stories, of what people are desperate to learn, from the heavenly realms,
Where is my runaway teenager?
Are they alive or dead?
Is my stillborn baby in heaven?
Desperately people turn to the spiritual realm to find answers, to learn something.
But what does Paul say here to his Gentile friends, Gentiles like almost all of us, I reckon?
The church teaches the angels!
How do you think I’d go, if I went to the Body, Mind and Psychic Fair, set up my stall, and said, “Come, sit down, pay your money, and teach something to an angel!”?
When no one at the Body, Mind and Psychic Fair believes you, you realise just how far from the mainstream you are!
That the church reveals something to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms is not what we would expect, humanly speaking.
Now, the implications of what these angelic beings learn about the wisdom of God from the church isn’t specified.
But no doubt, for the spiritual powers opposed to God, part of what they learn in the church, is that they cannot stand in the way of God, drawing to himself in Christ, whoever he pleases!
They cannot stand in the way of the Gentiles coming to Christ,
They cannot stand in the way of any whom God would call, coming to understand the mystery of Christ.
I don’t know whether you get stage fright,
I imagine that most of us, if we were to stand before an assembly of all the kings and queens of this world, we would quite naturally be nervous about our performance.
And yet, even though Paul says we, the church, stand before an assembly even more awesome, than all the world’s royalty gathered, there’s no reason for nervousness, is there?
Least of all, because what is made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms is nothing about our performance!
Sure, every spiritual eye in the created universe is upon us,
But in God’s kindness, in God’s wisdom, in looking at us, they see God’s plans and purposes for salvation in Christ.
God’s plans and purposes that, verse 11, stretch back into eternity past. This wasn’t just a spur of the moment thought from God. “Oh look, I seem to have drawn together for myself a church!”
“What could this be good for? I know! I’ll use it to teach the angels a thing or two!
No, the church declares the manifold wisdom of God, as was God’s intention for all eternity.
As I was writing this week, my Telstra bill arrived. And as I was looking at it, getting annoyed at the distraction, I read the fine print at the bottom of the page, “the spectrum device is a trade mark.”
And I looked up at the top of the page, and I realised that what I had initially thought were just some strangely-shaped coloured triangles, it was actually an image of light, being split into its spectrum, as it passes through a prism. It’s high school physics, isn’t it?
And so I repented of my annoyance at the distraction, and instead thanked God for the timely arrival of my Telstra bill, because I realised that is, all too often, how we see the church.
We see it as something,
Maybe something odd,
Something, anything, at times, other than what it is;,
The prism, that shows the manifold, technicolour, wisdom of God, into the heavenly realms.
When someone spoke to you, the gospel of grace,
When you, who were once far off, were drawn near in Christ,
When you, not one of God’s covenant people, understood the mystery of Christ, and took your place as one who shares in the promises of God.
The rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms took notice!
When I came to faith, as a child, with nothing to offer God, what can a child bring?, The rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms saw the manifold wisdom of God worked out;
Salvation isn’t earned,
It’s not bought.
God’s economy is completely different to the human economy.
The manifold wisdom of God.
When Darren was commissioned moments ago, by this church, this real and tangible reflection of the heavenly gathering around Christ, The rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, got a glimpse at one ray of the spectrum of God’s manifold wisdom.
In that moment, it was declared in the heavenly realms, that the plans and purposes of God for salvation do not depend on the skill and impressiveness of humans, even those set aside to proclaim the gospel among us.
Oh we are thankful to God for Darren’s gifts and his godliness, but if God’s plans for salvation depend on this man, we are in trouble.
But in raising up Darren to lead his church, as in raising up all who lead and serve among us, flawed, fallible, sinful human beings, God demonstrates his wisdom in the heavenly realms. Clearly it is only, verse 11, in Christ Jesus our Lord., 12 In him and through faith in him that we may approach God with freedom and confidence
The manifold wisdom of God.
What’s the point of church?
Well, the point is bigger than we probably ever imagined, isn’t it?
In the sovereign purposes of God, the church reaches out beyond this world, to declare not only to all people, but also to the heavenly realms, the manifold wisdom of God.
The church makes God’s plan of salvation known to the whole cosmos, yes, through what we do, the preaching of the boundless riches of Christ, but also through the church’s very existence.
As the gospel is preached, as the mystery long hidden is made known, people like you and me, and our friends and our family, our neighbours and colleagues who don’t yet know Jesus, are made heirs together with Israel, sharers together in the promise in Christ.
The gospel of Jesus is personal, it has a personal impact on every single person who responds to it.
The gospel changes people, but it doesn’t stop with changing people. Jesus lived, and died, and rose from the dead, not only to save people, but to create that third race, a new humanity, that is gathered around Christ.
And if our earthly gathering is the tangible reflection of that, well, few things could be more important.