In order for us to understand the nature of the church, Scripture gives us a wide range of images to show us what the church is like. When Paul writes to Timothy he views the church as a family. A different family image refers to the church as the Bride of Christ and our relationship to him resembles an engagement waiting to be consummated in heaven. Jesus referred to the church as branches on a vine. Paul uses an olive tree, a building, and a field producing a crop. The apostle Peter views the church as a temple and as a new group of priests. The writer of Hebrews refers to the church as God’s house — not at all talking about the building we meet in! He is referring to the people as God’s house. We come today to the image of the church as the body of Christ.
Ephesians 1:15-23 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
There’s really a lot going on in this passage and we don’t have time to go into all of it now. Paul is telling the Ephesian church about his prayers for them. Paul was their founding pastor and they were very much on his heart. I can understand that concern of his. Paul knew that the Spirit of God lives in each one of them. He also knew that Christ is their, and our, wisdom but we really don’t use that wisdom as we should. So he asks that the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ be given to them so that they will know the hope that he has called the church to. I pray that the same spirit of wisdom and revelation be given to us so that we can enjoy all the privileges we have in Christ. Paul wants the Ephesian church to remember that their Lord, and ours, is seated at the right hand of God in heaven. Yes…
Jesus is seated at the right hand of Majesty. Let’s look at Hebrews 1:1-4. Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
Jesus came into the world exactly as it was prophesied. He was born in a stable, grew up in a carpenter shop, he taught for about three years, he was arrested, tortured and executed. Just as he had promised, he was raised from the dead on the third day.
There is a very dangerous trend today going on in the entertainment industry that is designed by the devil to denigrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That trend is multiple movies and TV series portraying the so-called “undead”. The zombies have become very popular and they are portrayed as people who have come back from the dead and who are very frightening and evil.
Last year, while teaching Vacation Bible School I discovered that when I referred to the resurrection of Jesus Christ a couple of the children immediately envisioned him as a zombie! Obviously that’s not someone that they want to identify with! I had to take a little extra time to teach them that Jesus rose from the dead with a perfect body and a perfect plan from God the Father. I do not believe I was able to really overcome the images implanted by these evil shows they had seen. I realize that for many people these horror shows are just entertainment. I have come to believe that Satan has a vested interest in the entertainment industry! We need to guard our minds, and especially our children’s minds, by giving serious consideration to what is taught by what they see.
Jesus entered into the heavenly Temple with his own blood to offer on the altar there for us! He is our substitutionary sacrifice. He took our sins in his own body and became sin for us so that we could become the righteousness of God in him. When he did this, and after his resurrection from the dead, he was seated at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. Ephesians 2:6 affirms that there is a lot more to it than that. He didn’t just take our sins, as separate from us, he took us to the cross with him. And when he entered into the heavenly place he took us there with him.
That seems impossible, I know! After all, we are still here. How can we be seated in heaven with him? Well, the answer may simply be in the fact that with God one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years is as one day. This is not a math problem! It’s just a statement of fact that God is not hampered by time the way we are. I can make educated guesses about the future and some of them are close to right. Kind of like the weather man who is very successful if he is right more than he is wrong. Since God exists outside of time, this blows my mind, our God can view the past, present, and future all at the same time as though they are happening right now!
Jesus came to the earth for the very purpose of becoming sin and paying the price. You see, the wages of sin is death and Jesus died instead of us. He did this as a demonstration of the love of God. During his life on earth…
Jesus knew all things would be handed to him. We know this is true because of a teaching that Jesus himself gave. It’s found in Matthew 11:25-30. At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Jesus was in on the plan! Father, Son, and Spirit existed long before the foundation of the world. However, it was known then that the Son would come to the earth and redeem, out of all mankind, a chosen people who would place their faith in him. The result of his having accepted the responsibility of taking our sins and paying the price would be, and was, that all things would be handed over to him by the Father. There was never any doubt in Christ’s mind that he would do this from the time that he became aware until the time that he hung on the cross. He was prepared to bear our sins.
Perhaps that explains the passage in Isaiah where Jesus is referred to as, “despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Isaiah 53:3)
When His disciples tried to talk him out of going to Jerusalem because the people there were looking to execute him he clearly said that is the reason he came into the world. He knew without a doubt that all things would be handed over to him and with that authority…
Jesus gifted the church so it might grow up. Look with me at Ephesians 4:11-16. And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
The spiritual gifts, given to the church, are never for individual benefit. In fact, there are many individual benefits from the spiritual gifts but they are all given for the purpose of strengthening the church in spreading grace across the world.
I think it’s very interesting the way some people take this passage apart to recognize the existence of pastors and teachers, and usually evangelists, but who want to eliminate apostles and prophets. This passage says that these gifted people are given to the church for building up the body of Christ with a certain goal in mind. That goal is — until we all attain to the unity of the faith, to the knowledge of the son of God, and to mature manhood equal to Christ!
That goal has certainly not been met! Hardly a partial fulfillment! If the church must wait for maturity in order to give up apostles and prophets that is nowhere in sight. I have to confess that I have a lower view of all present day apostles than some do. And I believe many people confuse the gift of prophecy! I still believe that both these gifts are available to the church today empowered by the Holy Spirit. Modern-day missionaries may be called apostles since they are sent out with a special goal in mind. There are many who possess the gift of prophecy but they are primarily simply telling the truth about Jesus and not predicting the future. All spiritual gifts are given to the church to mature the church. Spiritual gifts are given to serve each other. We are to be good stewards of God’s gifts and use them to help grow the church towards maturity. Numerical growth might come along with that but, in my opinion, a too rapid rate of numerical growth can hamper the spiritual maturity of a church. What our church, and most of the churches that I know of, really need is people who are willing to grow into servant leaders so that the church will mature. God is not looking for ability by human standards. The wisdom of this world is seldom anywhere near the wisdom of God! There are some abilities that God is looking for as his eyes roamed to and fro over the earth. There is avail-ability; there is account-ability; there is adjust-ability; there is approach-ability; there is believe-ability; there is change-ability; there is dur-ability; there is honor-ability; and, there is upgrade-ability. All these abilities and many more enable a person to be more quickly usable by God but the absence of them doesn’t keep God from using a person. Some of the greatest men and women who have ever served God appeared, on the outside, to not be useful. When the world’s standard is applied they just didn’t measure up. D. L. Moody was the greatest evangelist in the 19th century. It is estimated that during his lifetime more than 1 million people came to faith in Jesus Christ! He was born in the home of an alcoholic and became an orphan earlier in life. He was poorly educated and worked as a shoe salesman in his early adult years. Now, there’s nothing wrong with being a shoe salesman but it is not very likely that one would be recognized as a great evangelist. In fact, Moody was a poor speaker in some respects who “murdered” the English language. Yet he not only became a successful evangelist in North America it was also one of the greatest evangelist in Great Britain.
Others, such as John Bunyan and Billy Sunday were tremendously used by God even though they were not formally educated or recognized by the established churches. Human gifts and talents might be used by God but the most important gifts and talents are from those given by the Holy Spirit.
It is Jesus’ intention to mature the church…
So that God’s wisdom might be known. Let’s look back at Ephesians 3:7-13. Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. 8 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. 13 So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.
I remember coming to this passage of Scripture and realizing that the church throughout history has been a teaching tool for the spiritual forces in the heavenly places. Of course I thought immediately go to angels as the “rulers and authorities” however, toward the end of this letter, Paul refers to the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. So both angels and demons have a lot to learn from God’s use of the church. I realize of course that all learning experiences are not positive! But I believe it is the intention of God to mature the church in such a way that the spiritual forces in the universe recognize that God is going to reach people from every tribe and nation in the world. We need to remember that is not by might nor power but by God’s Spirit that things get done. The Scriptures clearly teach that the world did not know God through wisdom. God makes foolish the wisdom of the world! We must remember that God has a greater purpose than we can ever imagine. God’s Word tells us that…
The church is Christ’s fullness on earth. Listen or read from Ephesians 3:14-19. For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
The fullness of deity lives in Jesus Christ! He came into this world full of grace and truth as a part of the plan of God that has always been a mystery to mankind! When the Holy Spirit enters our life at salvation God lives in us from that day forward. So that Paul could pray for the Ephesian church, and for us, that we will be strengthened with power through his Spirit. That we, as part of the church, may know that Christ dwells in our heart through faith and that we will have strength to understand what is the fullness of the love of Christ that goes beyond knowledge. God intends that we may be filled with the fullness of God and as such we may be used by him to extend the message of grace into our world by his power. Remember, we are not just a group of people waiting to go to heaven! We are a group of people, filled by the Holy Spirit, designed by God to bring heaven to earth and share it with all those around us.
The church is the body of Christ planted all over the world. Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth given to him. That authority gives him the power to gift the church in such a way that men and women, boys and girls are brought to salvation. The spiritual gifts are not just to bring people to faith but they are also given to mature the church so that the wisdom of God can be shown to the spiritual forces. God’s grace gifts enable the church to do its work.
Too often we look on the outer evidence of a person and their talents. We are like Israel who chose Saul to be king because he was the tallest man around. All the time it was in God’s plan that the shepherd boy, David, would be the greatest king that Israel ever had. The world might be looking for talented people! They are all over the place and often are of little use to God. What the world needs are people who are filled with the Holy Spirit and are available to God. God will take care of the talent when it’s needed.
The Scriptures that I’ve shared with you take my breath away! Here the Holy Spirit is revealing to us that the church is a lot more than a holding place until we are to be rewarded in heaven. Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth! Using that authority, Jesus gifts the church with people in leadership that causes the body of Christ to grow up. He does this in order for the demons to learn about God’s wisdom. And now the church is tasked with the responsibility of spreading the grace of God in every direction. We are to fill the world with the grace of God beginning at home and going outward to the entire world.
The question is: Are you really part of the body of Christ? Remember, we are saved by grace through faith upon our confession that Jesus is Lord and that God has raised him from the dead. We are saved only because of the work of God in our lives. No one comes to him unless the Father calls them. Has he called you? Have you come to him? If not, today is the day of salvation!
All scripture quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.