Saturday, November 26, 2016

"To Him be glory in the Church!"

Day #332

Scripture Reading:  Ephesians 1 - 3 …

As a believer in Jesus Christ, as one in whom the Spirit of God lives, as a part of the Body of Christ, the Church and as a pastor, I LOVE the Church … this body of people chosen, loved, called, forgiven, redeemed, adopted and sent by God.  Without question, the organization and structure that we all see, and that I have experienced myself, leaves much to be desired.  Divisions and denominationalism often expose what the true Body of Christ readily admits:  We are all sinners and we are not yet what God wants us to be.  And yet, there IS hope, because it is God's desire to bring glory to Himself in and through the Church.

The true Church is the "ekklesia," the "called-out ones."  Not everyone who "goes to church" or who is a "member" of "a" church knows God, trusts Christ or is part of the body of Christ.  Many are sadly pretending and will be exposed for who they really are when Jesus returns.  But here in his letter to the believers in Ephesus, Paul is God's instrument to teach us who the true Church is and how it can and does bring glory to God.  The true Church is beautiful because the Spirit of God creates a oneness that overcomes our sin and empowers us to be something different and to do something different with our lives.  There is ONE true Church and God knows those who are His because He "chose us in Him (Christ) before the creation of the world" (1:4).

This is where Paul begins.  The Church that God sees and knows is made up of those whom God has chosen, loved, predestined, adopted, redeemed and forgiven in Christ.  It is "in Christ" that the Church finds LIFE with God and through the Holy Spirit is "guaranteed" an inheritance ... all to the praise of God's glory! Three times in the first 14 verses Paul explains that God has done all of this "for the praise of His glorious grace" (1:6,12,14).  Over and over and over again in these three chapters God points us to Jesus Christ.  

There is an unbreakable union between God's plan in Christ and the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit.  It is Christ who accomplishes our salvation and it is the Spirit of Christ who applies the benefits to us.  Jesus Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father in the heavenly realms (1:20), yet His Spirit seals and strengthens believers so that all that Jesus has done is for this one Body, the Church.  "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" (1:23).

All of this is all the more amazing because of our condition before we became part of the Church, before we were saved.  While other religions talk about what people must DO to earn their "god's" favor, the Bible says that we "were dead" in our transgressions and sins.  We were "by nature objects of wrath" (2:3).  "But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ ... it is by grace you have been saved" (2:1,3-4).  "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast" (2:8-9).  God saves US ... we don't save ourselves!!

As a Jew, Paul realized that many did not understand the "shift" in God's attention from Jews to Gentiles.  Many do not understand this yet today. Paul explains that God was fulfilling His plan to bring people from all the nations to Himself through Christ Jesus, making the two one body in Christ.  With words inspired by the Spirit he beautifully describes the union of Jews and Gentiles into one body:  "You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people ... built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets ... being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit" (2:19-22).

God did not forget Israel or exclude them, but rather, He extended His grace to those outside of Israel and made them part of His covenant people!  God had promised as much to Abraham in Genesis 12:3 when He told him that in his "Seed" all nations on earth would be blessed.  Now Paul explains that this had been a "mystery" prior to the coming of Christ, but now, in the pouring out of the Spirit, the mystery had been revealed:  "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" (3:6).  In fact, Paul says that it is God's "intent" that "now, through the Church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known" (3:10).

To understand the unfolding of God's plan in Christ to establish the Church is to see the wisdom of God laid out for all with the Spirit to plainly see. Only God could devise such a plan and carry it out to perfection.  Those who do not know God's Word or who have not had their minds opened to understand the truth revealed in it dismiss Paul's explanation of the birth of the Church in the mind of God before the world began.  But those who know Jesus Christ, who have been saved by grace, realize that apart from God's sovereign choice we would be like the rest of mankind:  lost, blind and "without hope and without God in the world" (2:12).

As Paul explains all of this he cannot help but pray for believers, that they would "grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ" and that they would "know this love that surpasses knowledge" and "be filled to the measure of the fullness of God" (3:18-19).  Why?  Remember what Paul said in Chapter 1:  "For the praise of His glorious grace!"   Those of us who are part of the true Church know that we exist for the glory of God and together we seek Him, love Him and serve Him!!  This Church, the only TRUE Church, IS GLORIOUS!!

"Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine according to His power that is at work within us, to HIM be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen!"  (3:20-21).

"O Lord, my God, Your love and Your grace in Christ Jesus have brought hope out of despair and life out of death.  Through the work of Your Spirit You have brought together Your Church and You continue to call some today from every people, tribe, nation and tongue.  Work in me and in all those who love You to bring glory to Yourself in the Church until Jesus returns and we receive our inheritance ... eternity with You!  In Jesus' name, Amen"

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