Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 02/21/1999
"To me, the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentile the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery that has been hidden for ages in God who created all things, in order that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the Church to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places."
Today we come to the climax of Paul's digression on God's grace, and also, in a sense, of the whole book of Ephesians. Why has God been so gracious? Ultimately, for his own glory. "For the sake of my name I delay my wrath, and for my praise I restrain it for you in order not to cut you off. . . . For my own sake, for my own sake I will act. For how can my name be profaned? And my glory I will not give to another" (Is. 48:9-11). In other words, God himself is at the center of his work. Another way to say it would be that God has done all his mighty acts "with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of everything in Christ" (Eph. 1:10). Or, from another angle, we could say that in the Church which God is building as the expression of his grace, "Christ Jesus himself" is "the chief cornerstone" (Eph. 2:20). Or, you could say that it is all "in order that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the Church to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places."
The purpose of the Church then is to bring glory to God by showing his wisdom. How does it do this? In terms of Paul's development of this idea in Ephesians, we can say that it is in at least two ways: first, simply by Existing, as its members are the Trophies of his Grace; and, secondly, by Manifesting the Effects of his Grace.
We don't need to say too much about this today because we have already seen this idea in 2:7, where we saw that God plans to "show" the surpassing riches of his grace toward us in the ages to come. For the verb translated "show" there really means to prove or demonstrate. It was used for a lawyer presenting his case in a Greek courtroom: "If it please the Court, we intend to 'show' that . . ." And what is this trial? The stage is set for it by the fact that Satan is the great Accuser of the brethren--and of God himself. In the Garden he asked Eve, "Yea, hath God said you may not eat of every tree in the Garden?" He was insinuating that God is not good, that he was holding something back that Eve needed to grasp by eating the Fruit. And ever since Satan has worked to deny, or if he cannot deny, to obscure and distort man's knowledge of God's goodness and grace. He must do this in order to persuade us to look for the Good outside of God's will.
But God will not let this attack on his character go unanswered. Paul therefore suggests in 2:7, and reminds us here, that in the last day the Church will be Exhibit A put into evidence in the case of God vs. Satan. And the Church will prove that God is beyond mere goodness; he is a God of Grace: goodness to the unworthy, love to the unlovable. When we consider our desert (Hell), the provision made for us instead (every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ), the price paid to provide it (Calvary), and the sufficiency of the means of providing it (through faith alone, which is itself part of his gift to us), then the case will be rested. Then, when the Church is unveiled, not as the human institution compromised with tares that we see now but as redeemed and glorified, without spot or wrinkle, washed in the blood of the Lamb, completed and clothed in the white robes of His righteousness--why, then the debate will be over, every mouth in opposition will be stopped, every knee will bow and every voice will proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. Thus we will make known the manifold wisdom of God simply by existing for all of eternity as the trophies of his grace.
But there is a second way that the Church makes know the manifold wisdom of God: by, here and now, beginning to manifest the effects of his Grace in our lives, individually and corporately. I would like to say a bit more about this today, for much of this second half of the book we are studying exists to teach us how to do this manifesting more effectively even now. What are some of these effects?
The separate, the excluded, the stranger--the far off--are brought nigh and made one with Christ and with each other. The Gospel reconciles us to God, as the One who was our Judge becomes our Father, the One who was our implacable Foe becomes our intimate Friend. It also reconciles us to each other, incorporating natural enemies like Jew and Gentile into one Body which grows in love. The basis of this reconciliation was laid out in chapter 2, and the practical outworkings of it will occupy us much in chapters 4-6. And this effect of his grace happens "in order that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the Church to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places."
So radical is the change wrought by grace that the "old self" is said to be replaced by a completely new one. Think of it! The Rebel becomes a Vassal; the Sinner a Saith; the Slave a Son; the Dead, Alive; the Prisoner of Rome a Prisoner of Jesus Christ. Before receiving Christ you were an Idolater, serving your self, and unable to tear that self from the worship of lesser Gods. But now all of life is becoming oriented not toward self but toward Another who is the greatest Good of all, who fills and fulfills. Before you were the Slave of Sin, the Dupe of the Devil, mastered by your own impulses. Now, being mastered by the Almighty, you are becoming the master of your own passions, indeed, more than Conquerors through Him who loved us so. Before you were drifting, aimless in life, with nothing to live for. Now you are the servant of the living God. The change is not complete; it will not be complete until Christ returns. But it has already begun. And this effect of his grace happens "in order that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the Church to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places."
Another effect of grace in our lives is that we become imitators of God as beloved children. This is an excellent analogy, as any of us who have had children of our own know well. When they are little they want nothing more than to be like their parents. The combination of the corrupting influence of their peers and the regrettable tendency of the parents to display increasingly obvious feet of clay will cause this feeling to disappear, but until those baleful influences kick in it is the natural way for children to feel. One effect of being touched by God's grace is that it is restored to us, without the naivete that accompanies it in childhood, and fixed on One who will never disillusion us. And Paul says in 5:2 that this imitation specifically causes us to walk in love. How is this going to be manifest except in the Community of Faith, the Church? So there this effect of his grace happens "in order that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the Church to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places."
Another effect of his grace in our lives is speaking the truth in love. Apart from his grace our grasp of the truth is distorted and our attempts to speak it either silent and ineffective or pompous, self-righteous, overbearing, and obnoxious. But grace gives us boldness without arrogance, clarity without harshness; it allows us to speak the truth in love. And this effect of his grace happens "in order that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the Church to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places."
Yet another effect of God's grace in our lives is boldness of confident access to the Throne. Paul speaks not just of the privilege of potential entry but the reality of access. This is prayer that is not just religious language but the expression of a real relationship with God. This is a private reality in the inner chamber, of course. But where else can it be overheard and become thereby a manifestation of God's grace except in the Church? There corporate praise that comes from the heart and petitions that become the foundation of future testimonies to his work in our lives are the signs of spiritual reality. And this effect of his grace happens "in order that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the Church to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places."
Paul's tribulations on behalf of the saints are mentioned here as in most of his epistles. As he said in 2 Tim. 3:12, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. This also is a natural result of being transformed so that we are no longer in tune with the ways of this world, no longer compatible with its agendas. Tribulation is simply grace under fire. And how indeed can the reality of the other effects be seen with credibility except in the light of this one? Therefore, do not lose heart when the fiery trials come. Now is the time to imitate the Lord when he said, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do." For this is perhaps the most powerful form of proclamation of all. And this effect of his grace happens "in order that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the Church to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places."
The crowning effect of God's grace in our lives is that it inspire us to be always speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in our hearts to the Lord. When all the other effects begin to be seen,--when people are reconciled to God and each other, their lives are transformed, they imitate the love of God, they proclaim his Gospel in love, they experience intimate communion with him and answers to prayer, and they suffer persecution and trial without bitterness--then this one will be inevitable too. What can they do but worship such a God who has done and is doing such things in their lives? Historically, it is when the Church truly worships in response to God's grace that those outside the church take notice and begin to be interested in the Gospel. Paul says that the angels and powers in the heavenlies take notice too. And this effect of his grace happens "in order that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the Church to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places."
There are at least two powerful implications of the fact that God makes his manifold wisdom known to the watching universe through the Church. First, the fact that this is achieved through the effects of grace should lay to rest the fears of those who think that the doctrine of justification by faith alone must reduce to cheap grace and lax living. For we are not saved by faith exactly--we are saved by grace alone, which is received by faith alone. But this grace is a working grace which has inexorable effects in the lives of those who are vouchsafed it. Faith that does not receive grace is not biblical faith, and grace that does not produce good works is not God's grace. The doctrine of sola gratia, grace alone, does not make good works unnecessary; it just makes them possible!
The second implication is the centrality of the Church in God's plan. An emphasis on individual salvation is not misplaced; it is just incomplete. For God did not come to save individuals only but also to save a people. Christ died for the Church as a people as much as he died for the individuals who come to make it up. And it is in the Church as a worshipping community that many of God's ultimate purposes are achieved. It is when those individuals begin to function as a Body that his wisdom, greatness, power, and goodness are seen and made known; it is then that he is truly glorified.
Therefore, nothing in your Christian life--nothing in your life, period--is more important than making the Church to be the Body that Paul describes in this book. We will spend much of the rest of this series learning how to do just that. And for that, we will need the grace of God indeed.
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams