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Rainbow Divider

Chapter 10

God’s Plan for the Church

Paul’s understanding of God’s vision and plan for the church is not something he learned in school, nor was it the product of his own diligent study. He did not even learn it at the feet of those who were apostles before him. It was very simply something God supernaturally revealed to him. God singled out Paul to communicate His heart and thus it is no accident that Paul was the human author of so much of the New Testament.

It is easy in his writings to sense not only his passion on the subject but God’s as well. There is everywhere expressed a burning desire that his readers “get it,” that they understand and experience the greatness of God’s purpose.

The Mystery of Christ

In Ephesians 3 Paul uses an interesting expression: “the mystery of Christ.” In verse 3 he notes the fact that this mystery was “made known to me by revelation.” It should be obvious from his words that what Paul knew could only be known by divine revelation. It has nothing whatever to do with how smart we are, how sincere, or how hard we study. When it comes to divine mysteries we are completely at the mercy of God. Unless He chooses to reveal something to us we remain in ignorance. Would that we were always honest about what we don’t know!

Paul summarizes this divine mystery 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.”

In part this mystery addressed a very important first century issue, that of the place of Jew and Gentile in the plan of God. In Christ this distinction has been forever destroyed as Paul so clearly expresses in Eph. 2:11-22. The “barrier,” the “dividing wall of hostility,” was “destroyed” (verse 14). Access to God and citizenship in His kingdom is now equally available to all through Christ and his death on the cross. It has nothing to do with national or ethnic background.

One New Man

In Eph. 2:15-16 Paul writes, “His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.” Note the interesting expressions of oneness and wholeness he uses: “one new man” and “one body.” It is not simply that God sought many new men but one new man. He sees things differently than we do.

Notice also that this one new man was created and that this creation took place in Christ Jesus. Such language highlights the fact that this is entirely a supernatural work of God, just as much as the original creation was when God spoke the universe into existence.

A lot more happened when Jesus was raised from the dead than simply the resurrection of one person from physical death. It is not just Jesus Christ the individual that had Paul excited. It is what was in him. In him a new creation was born. We were there! All that we will ever be was there in him just awaiting the day when we would by God’s grace be brought to the hope of the gospel and become partakers of the life that was in him.

Remember John 12:23-24 where Jesus said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” A seed contains all of the future generations that will result from the life that is in it. In particular the life that was in Jesus contained the Church he died to redeem, right down to the very last member. If you are His then you were there.

Alive With Christ

In Eph. 2:4-7 Paul writes, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”

Notice the way he puts it. God “made us alive with Christ.” “God raised us up with Christ.” He also “seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ.” All of this extends into the eternal future when He shows us “the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”

When were we made alive? When Christ was. When were we raised up? When he was. Where are we as a result? In the heavenly realms. How? In Christ. If you hand someone a box you hand them not only the box but whatever is in that box. Everything that happened to Jesus Christ happened to all of God’s people because they were “in him.”

If you go to a tree nursery and buy a young fruit tree to plant in your yard you buy not only the young tree as it is but also every leaf and every branch it will ever produce. They are already there — in the tree. Leaves and branches are not special options bought separately from the tree! And every part of that developing tree plays a part both in its growth and in the fruit that is produced.

For Us Who Believe

That is why Paul wanted his readers to understand the greatness of what God did in Christ — because we were there. In Eph. 1:18-21 he writes, “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.”

This is not mere abstract theology, interesting to think about but not really connected with everyday life. If we would see things as God sees them we would see that the awesome things He did in His Son were done “for us who believe” and were meant to give us a solid foundation of hope not only for the eternal future but here in this world as well. No devil in hell can withstand or undo what God has given us in His Son!

Christ?

What do you think of when you hear the word “Christ”? I daresay that most would think of Jesus Christ, the individual, the Son of God who once walked the shores of Galilee and who now reigns on high. That is true enough but God’s vision is larger. In Eph. 1:22-23 we read, “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.”

Christ’s power and exaltation is not just for his own benefit; it is “for the church.” More than that it is “for the church, which is his body.” But even that doesn’t quite paint the picture. This body is “the fullness of him....” What does that mean? Put crudely it simply means that the church is the rest of him. He is not complete without the Church any more than your head is complete without your body.

If I were to meet you and all I saw was your head I might well ask, “Where is the rest of you?” I am sure that the Father welcomed His Son back to glory with great joy and yet His great heart longed for the day when the “rest of him” would likewise be glorified. We tend to see Christ and the church as separate things but God doesn’t see them that way.

Paul didn’t either. We can see the roots of Paul’s understanding in the very moment he met Christ on the Damascus road experience. Knocked from his horse by a blinding light he heard a voice say, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” His response was to ask, “Who are you, Lord?” The answer came, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting?”

Of course in his mind it was the followers of Jesus who were being persecuted but in the mind of Jesus his union with those followers was so complete that the persecution was actually against him personally. Thus was Saul, later known as Paul, introduced very early to the reality of Christ’s living union with his Church.

The Oneness of Christ’s Body

In 1 Cor. 12:12-13 Paul writes, “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body — whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free — and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” So what is with Christ? “Christ” is a many-membered body. Jesus Christ is the Head — but the church is the body. It is only together that we have the entire Christ as God sees things. Of course the church is nothing in itself and has nothing to boast of except its glorious Head.

Notice that word “unit.” Paul is not writing to emphasize the “many parts” but rather the “unit,” the simple fact that those parts make up “one body.” In the minds of so many the “body of Christ” is a somewhat vague mystical thing perhaps illustrating the variety of gifts and abilities in individual believers but little else. While it is true that every true born-again believer is a member of the body of Christ it is also true that in Paul’s teaching the body of Christ was meant to be a practical and local reality.

People weren’t baptized into a mystical body and left to do as they pleased. He said to the Corinthian believers, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” 1 Cor. 12:27-28. He didn’t say, “You are part of the body”; he said, “You are the body of Christ.” They were the living, breathing, body of Christ in that location, members one of another, every part vital.

Every part of your body, including your head, is vitally connected to every other part. All of the parts share the very same life. There is a total interdependence in the relationship of those parts to each other. Every part contributes something to the whole according to its designed function and every part receives what it needs as all the other parts do the same. Every part takes its direction from the head.

How well would your body function if all its parts declared their rights to independence?!

And it wasn’t just the spirits of believers that were somehow mystically joined to other believers. The union also involved their bodies. In 1 Cor. 6 Paul warns the believers against sexual immorality. He tells them why in verse 15 — “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself?” Think about what he is saying there. Your bodies are actually part of Christ! They are meant to express his life even as Jesus expressed the life of his Father through his body.

What Satan Fears

But Jesus was a complete expression of the Father. Individually we are not complete expressions of Christ. It is only in a living practical union that the world can see him come in the flesh as God intended. It is this corporate expression that Satan fears. He loves the “mystical” universal body since it is little more than an idea and no real threat to his kingdom.

Being joined to the mystical body is sort of like a man being married to a mystical wife! No matter what her imagined virtues may be she will never cook his breakfast nor bear his children!

In the body of Christ “separateness” — which is really rebellious independence — gives way to the oneness of being part of Christ. The smallness of self dies that the greatness of Christ may live and find expression in the earth.

God’s Temple

In Eph. 2:19-22 Paul gives us a different picture of the church as God sees it, but one that conveys the same essential message. “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”

And so Paul moves from “one new man” and “one body” to a “whole building” that is “joined together” and is being “built together.” The common theme is clear: there is a very real and practical “togetherness” that God seeks. He is building a home for Himself.

Paul’s thought here is not something separate from the verses that precede it. It is connected by the word “consequently.” God’s purpose to construct a house for Himself is a direct consequence of the reconciliation of one body to God through the cross.

Not Just in Heaven

Reconciliation with a holy God is a wonderful thing but it is not an end in itself. God has something particular in mind. That something has practical implications. It implies some very important things about the life of God’s people now — here on earth — and not just in heaven someday. The church does not suddenly leap from individualism to “templehood” merely by being transported to heaven. Rather it is “joined together” here and “rises to become a holy temple.” What will be is our destiny. But there is a God-ordained process that leads to that destiny.

Suppose you decide to build a house and at great cost you purchase the finest building materials money can buy. But suppose those fine building materials are never cut, fitted, and fastened together by a skilled builder according to a good master plan. Where would you live? If someone were to ask you where you lived would you point to the scattered materials and say, “There … and there … and, well, everywhere!”? What good would that be?

In the same way materials that are separate and scattered do not a temple make. They must surrender their separateness to the Master Builder and be shaped and fitted together according to God’s design.

Who is this Master Builder? Did not Jesus say, “I will build my church”? Matt. 16:18. The problem is that many zealous religious people have tried to build Jesus a church — according to their design. God’s plan by contrast is for Jesus to call a people to the kingdom through the gospel, build them together as a body, practically, locally, as a place where he can dwell and express himself in the earth.

No man can engineer such a thing. We can only repent and cry out to God to bring it about and to reveal our place in the body. There we look to Christ as Head and submit ourselves one to another, ministering one to another according to the gifts and abilities Christ the Head gives.

Christ in heaven is wonderful; but it is Christ in his body that God seeks. The vision of God’s heart has been subverted by religious tradition and the zealous efforts of men. The rebellion of individualism has been justified by an appeal to the concept of the “mystical” body of Christ. While God’s vision is explained away as impractical and unrealistic the religious machinery grinds on. Has not the deceiver been at work?

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