Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 11/9/1997
[The things in v. 3-9 were done] "With a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in heaven and things upon the earth."
In our studies of Ephesians so far, we have learned something of the truly astounding amount of interest God takes in us. In order to bless us with every spiritual blessing, he chose us before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and blameless before him in love; he predestined us to adoption; he redeemed us through the blood of Christ; he made known to us the mystery of his will. And we have seen that all this has been done not just for our benefit but for the praise of his glory. Today these two themes are brought together for us in one of the most awe-inspiring revelations in all of Scripture. Why has God done these things? What is the larger picture they fit into? What is the great cause God has enlisted us in, redeemed, justified, and sanctified us for so that we might play a part in it? It is the fulcrum on which the whole book of Ephesians hinges and it is certainly the capstone of God's plan for the ages. It was all done with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ (v. 10).
This is not an easy verse to understand, not only because it contains many difficult technical terms but also because it expresses the most profound idea you will ever entertain in your mind. Well did D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones say, "The human mind can never contemplate anything greater. In this verse we are transported above the matter of our personal salvation into the realm of ultimate things. God gives us no greater privilege than to be allowed to look into this." Therefore we will walk through it slowly, one piece at a time.
The word translated "administration" (KJV "dispensation") is OIKONOMIA, from which we get the English word "economy." Its synonyms include stewardship, arrangement, management, dispensation, administration, and economy. What it means here is that in Election, Predestination, Redemption, and Revelation, God is administering or managing things according to his own plan. Though evil seems to have free reign, though Satan still has freedom to attack the Church from within and without, behind the scenes God is in control. He is managing the forces of history and arranging the course of events to bring about the salvation of believers and the glorification of his Son.
"Fullness of the times" is the fullness of AION (English "eons"). Greek has three words for time. CHRONOS is just plain old garden-variety time. KAIROS is a critical moment of time. AION is a meaningful segment of time within which a definite course of events unfolds which gives to that age its character. We use this idea when we speak of the classical age, the middle ages, the age of the Renaissance. For us it is indefinite, a term of convenience to help us organize our view of history, but not an ultimate reality. No one knows when the Renaissance began or when it ended, though we figure it was going full blast by the 15th Cent. in Florence and had pretty much given out before the Age of Reason began in the 18th. C. S. Lewis famously doubted whether it ever occurred at all. There was no announcement on Jan. 1, 1400 saying, "Synchronize your sundials; transition from Medieval to Renaissance will occur precisely at noon." But with God it is not so. For him, history is a definite, planned, and purposeful progression of events, related into ages, managed, administered, and guided toward the goal which this verse describes: summing up all things in Christ.
The "fullness" of the eons means their completion. Remember that this was a pre-technological society. So time is measured by an hourglass. Imagine one whose bottom is getting "full." It means that the age measured by that glass is about to run out. When used of a series of ages, as here, it means the last one, the one that completes the series. The same phrase is used in Gal. 4:4, where in the fullness of time God sent forth his Son. When that happened, history was split in two, and the last age of time began to run, in which all God's purposes for the temporal creation will be brought to fruition. When the age begun at the birth of Christ, the age in which we live, has run out, only Eternity will be left.
In other words, God is so arranging things, so administering the ages, that when this age has run its course, when all that is temporal is swept into oblivion as the river of time empties itself into the shoreless gulfs of infinity, what will remain for all eternity will be that vast architecture of the Temple God is erecting for his own glory, that great Temple the Church, of which we will be part as living stones (Eph. 2:19-22).
"Summing up" (Grk. ANAKEPHALAIOSASTHAI) answers the question, what exactly will be the structure left when time is gone? It was a term of Rhetoric used by ancient teachers of composition, whose closest modern equivalent is "Thesis Statement." It means that point in a discourse where every head is brought together in one ultimate summation which reveals the purpose, unity, and harmony of the whole and the relation to that unity of each part. We composition teachers tell our students that the Thesis Statement is the most important sentence in any essay. For every other word in the essay must explain, illuminate, support, give examples of, give evidence for, persuade with reference to, or apply that one sentence. Otherwise, it is tangential. No matter how brilliant, no matter how eloquent, it does not belong in that essay and will have to be cut out.
So the meaning of this verse is that when all is said and done it will be revealed that our Lord Jesus Christ is the meaning of the universe. He is the Thesis Statement for creation. E. K. Simpson said, "He was the Alpha of time's first pulsebeat, and He shall be the Omega of its parting gasp, and gather to Himself all that survives the crash of worlds. If we are His, He abides our central sun, and we shall find our orbit as His satellites, attendant on the Light of lights."
Or, to put it in terms of another of Paul's Ephesian metaphors, the purpose of Time is the construction of an eternal Temple out of temporal materials for the eternal praise of God's glory. We, as living stones, are the building materials. And Christ will be the focal point, or the "cornerstone" of that Temple. Cornerstone or Thesis Statement, the meaning is the same: Everything that exists must find its meaning in Him or in relationship to Him. That which cannot or will not find its meaning in Him, that which would detract from His glory rather than drawing our attention to it, must be rigorously excluded. The stone must be rejected from the Temple, the sentence cut out of the essay. I've given you a lot of definitions this morning. Here is one more. Hell is the cosmic trashcan for all the pages which do not relate to the Thesis Statement of the essay about the glory of his Son that God intends to write in the lives of men.
What then is the practical application of this truth? Surely the first one is Worship. We must simply fall on our faces in adoration and awe, for if we understand this it must take our breath away. That God should include me in such a plan--that he should share it with me--that he should redeem me for it at the price of the blood of his Son--what can we say but "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ."
Secondly, our propensity to such worship becomes a great test of our spiritual health. Are you a spiritual person, a person after God's own heart? Well, he has revealed that heart here. Does the idea of Christ as the central meaning of existence, the Thesis Statement for all of life, thrill you to the very core of your being? If that summing up has no inerest for you, then salvation has no interest for you, for this is the end which salvation is the means of accomplishing. Your case is very serious indeed. But if you can find YOUR meaning here--then praise God and ask him to confirm and strengthen that sense of things in you, for it is the very essence of true spirituality.
Finally, this perspective gives us a very practical guide for living, and particularly for understanding how Christian liberty, our freedom in Christ, relates to our ultimate purpose. This great vision of God's plan for the future is given to inspire, motivate, and inform our lives in the present. For the most staggering realization of all is that God in his Grace wants us to help write the essay! Every day of your life he hands you a new blank sheet of paper. And you can write on it whatever you choose. He has given you the Thesis Statement, the Lord Jesus Christ and his glory, especially the glory of his grace. He has given you a few Grammar Rules he wants you to follow (there are, say, 10 of them, and you can find them summarized in Exodus 20). Within these guidelines, he has given you the freedom to write anything you want, according to your own unique personality and gifts, which he gave you precisely so you could write a chapter no one else could contribute. When the whole Book (it is called the Spiritual History of the World) is published, we will spend all of eternity reading one another's contributions and find great joy in exploring all its nuances, all it reveals to us of its great subject, Christ.
But while we have complete freedom to write whatever we choose (as long as we stick to the Thesis and follow the Grammar Rules), we must realize that our contribution is subject to a Final Edit (called the Judgment Seat of Christ). And what we have written will be subject to one criterion: did it support the Thesis? Therefore, I say to you, examine your reason for living. Everything you write on the blank pages of Time: every possession you own, every deed you do, every thought you think, every emotion you feel, every word you say, will either glorify the name of Jesus or disgrace it. It will focus attention either on him or on yourself. And all which does not find its meaning in Him is tangential. It will have to be edited out. It will not find its place in the essay. It will have been wasted.
It is a trite little verse, but none the less true for that: "Only one life, 'twill soon be past; / Only what's done for Christ will last." Why? Because when God chose you, predestined you, adopted you, and redeemed you, it was with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in heaven and things upon the earth." Amen.
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams