Vol. 1 - No. 10 

October, 1982

"The Church - The Wisdom And Purpose Of God"

by Robert A. Bolton

One of the most significant statements in the New Testa­ment relating to man's rela­tionship with God, yet a matter that is often abused, mis­used, misunderstood or ig­nored by many, is the beauti­ful expression of the apostle Paul as found in Ephesians 3:8-11. Here, as a grand and glorious climax to what had been said in the Ephesian epistle up to this point, Paul affirms:

“Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, was this grace given, to preach unto the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and to make all men see what is the dispen­sation of the mystery which for ages hath been hid in God who created all things; to the intent that now unto the principalities and the powers in the heavenly places might be made known through the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal pur­pose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

In developing this magnificent truth, the apostle has referred to “the purpose” of God, or its equivalent, several times, as relating to “every spir­itual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). Consider the following state­ments:

“He chose us in him before the foundation of the world” (1:4). “Having foreordained us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto himself, according to the good pleasure of his will” (1:5). “Which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved” (1:6). “According to the riches of his grace” (1:7). “According to his good pleasure which he purposed in him” (1:9). “In whom also we were made a heritage, having been foreordained accord­ing to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his will” (1:11). “According to that working of the strength of his might which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and made him to sit at his right hand in the heavenly places” (1:9-12). “And he put all things in subjection under his feet, and gave him to be head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all” (1:22-23). It is at this point that Paul discusses salvation “by grace through faith” and the reconciliation of both Jew and Gentile unto God “in one body.”

He begins chapter two with a graphic description of men lost in sin, affirming their condition as being “dead through your trespasses and sins, wherein ye once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the powers of the air, of the spirit that now worketh in the sons of disobedience; among whom we also all once lived in the lusts of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest:” (2:1-3). Thus, the beloved apostle indicts all men, Jew and Gentile alike, as being dead in sin, but more specifically, in view of the Gentile makeup of the church in Ephesus, he describes the “Gentiles in the flesh” as being “separate from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of the promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (2:11-13). And so, we are profoundly im­pressed with the fact, as elsewhere stated, that “all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), and that both Jews and Greeks” are “all under sin; as it is written, there is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:9-10).

Being unable to work his way out of such a helpless and hopeless dilemma, it remained for the great love, mercy and grace of Almighty God to provide the solution to man's problem of sin. This is why Paul announced that “you did he make alive when ye were dead,” accomplishing this marvelous feat through Jesus Christ, “the gift of God” in the process called “by grace…through faith”….Grace involving all that God has freely and lovingly done for sinful men which they could not do for themselves, and faith involving all that man must do in accepting and applying the benefits of God's grace. It is in this beautiful way that man is “reconciled” to God and to his fellow man.

Concerning the Jews, the once proud people of God yet lost in sin, and the Gentiles, a people alienated from the commonwealth of Israel without God and having no hope, Paul speaks of their reconciliation in Christ on this wise: “But now in Christ Jesus ye (Gentiles) that once were far off are made nigh in the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who made both (Jew and Gentile) one, and brake down the middle wall of partition (law of Moses), having abolished in his flesh the en­mity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; that he might create in himself of the two (Jew and Gentile) one new man, so making peace; and might reconcile them both (Jew and Gentile) in one body (the church) unto God through the cross, having slain the enmity thereby” (Ephesians 2:13-16). Thus, “in Christ” both Jew and Gentile are “reconciled unto God,” and to one another, “in one body,” the church, becoming “one flock” (John 10:16).

It is with reference to this grand and glorious relationship “in Christ” that Paul says: “how that by revelation was made known unto me the mys­tery, as I wrote before in few words, whereby, when ye read, ye can perceive my understanding in the mystery of Christ; which in other genera­tions was not made known unto the sons of men, as it hath now been revealed unto his holy apos­tles and prophets in the Spirit; to wit, that the Gentiles are fellow-heirs, and fellow-members of the body, and fellow-partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of that grace of God which was given me according to the working of his power” (Ephesians 3:3-7).

At this point, Paul reaches the magnificent and wonderful climax of all that he has written by af­firming: “Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, was this grace given, to preach unto the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and to make all men see what is the dispensation of the mystery which for ages hath been hid in God who created all things; to the intent that now unto the principal ties and the powers in the heavenly places might be made known through the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ephesians 3:8-11). For sheer beauty of expression and clarity of understanding, it seems that inspiration could not have chosen better words to describe this sublime truth, so basic and essential to man's salvation and hope of life eter­nal. Yet, unfortunately, so many miss the real force and true meaning of these words by what ap­pears to be total ignorance on the one hand or a complete rejection on the other.

For example, apparently disregarding the context, some believe that the expression “might be made known through the church the manifold wis­dom of God” is a statement authorizing the church to preach the gospel. That the primary mission of the church is to preach the gospel is readily ac­cepted, for it is clearly established by other passages of scripture, but proper consideration of the context of this statement will reveal that this is not the meaning here. Rather, in context, “the church” itself, in which both Jew and Gentile are reconciled unto God, is “the manifold wisdom of God” “made known,” as it relates to “the mystery” “revealed” according to God's “eternal purpose.”

One of the cardinal tenets of some premillennialists, briefly stated, is that Christ came the first time in order to establish his kingdom, but in his rejection and crucifixion by the Jews was prevented from doing so. Therefore, the kingdom was postponed until his second coming, and in its place, much as an afterthought, accident, or stop-gap measure, God set up the church. It should be clear to all that such a theory denies that “the kingdom” and “the church” are the same “body” and thus, either completely rejects or ignores the force of Paul's statements in the Ephesian epistle. As per this “ism,” the church is reduced to nothing short of a last minute substitute in the mind of God to span the historical gap between the first and second comings of Christ. Surely it is not diffi­cult to see that such an idea completely denies Paul's affirmation that “the church” is “according to the eternal purpose” of God. No wonder so many religious folk look upon the church as simply some sort of glorified social club, with a religious twist, instead of the great body of the redeemed and reconciled which is a glory to God and a monument to his “wisdom” and “eternal purpose.”

If we could but grasp the real significance of the truth that “the manifold wisdom of God” is “made known through the church,” “according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord,” then we could, with the great apostle to the Gentiles, lift our voices and hearts in praise and thanksgiving “unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus unto all generations forever and ever. Amen!” (Ephesians 3:20-21).