Saturday, September 5, 2015

Fullness By Design

As a father with six young children, I can honestly say that I desire for my children to grow up to full maturity. That's not to say that I want to skip past all of the fun things that accompany young kids - I don't want to skip any of that. In fact, as each day passes I realize how quickly these moments are gone.

However, the march toward adulthood is inevitable. Every day, we all get older. As a parent, I must be aware that my children are growing up, whether I like it or not.

But maturity is not the same as age. It is possible to get older while never really growing up.

When I say that I desire for my children to grow up to full maturity, what I mean is that I desire for my children to realize their potential and grow to be responsible adults.

I don't want my three sons to live in my house indefinitely, expecting their mother to cook and clean for them, into their thirties and forties. Part of my responsibility as a father is to steward these children that God has so graciously given us, so that they can be delivered safely into maturity when the time arrives.

As Christians, we have a heavenly Father who likewise desires that we grow to full maturity in Christ. Like our natural growth, spiritual maturity is not the same as spiritual age. We are not necessarily more mature simply because we have been Christians for a long time. To think that maturity and age are the same is to be woefully deceived.

In Ephesians 5:17 the Apostle Paul writes, "So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is." This is good counsel. In order to understand what Paul means about the will of the Lord, we must understand what he has been writing about through the book of Ephesians.

Paul is writing about God's will that the church reach full maturity for the praise and glory of His name. This fullness comes by God's sovereign design.

The first chapter of Ephesians is filled with some of the deepest theology you will find anywhere in the Bible. This chapter touches on the work of the triune God is redeeming a people for Himself. It discusses the Father's plan to choose a people for Himself from before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before Him (Eph 1:3-4). It tells of His predetermined plan to adopt us into His family through Christ, to the praise of the glory of His grace (Eph 1:5-6). And, this chapter tells us that God made known to us His plan and that God revealed the mystery of His will which He has purposed in Christ, with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ (Eph 1:9-10).

That last part is so important to really understand.

God had a plan before He even made the world to redeem a people for Himself, in and through Christ, to be for the praise of His glory (Eph 1:12). This means that the very existence of the church - our very being - is supposed to bring glory to God's amazing, transformative, and redemptive grace which He has so lavishly and freely bestowed on us in Christ.

God then made known the mystery of His will, so that we who have been adopted into His family would understand what He is doing. When Paul states in Ephesians 5:11 that we are not to be foolish, but to understand what the will of the Lord is, it is safe to say that he expects his readers to remember what he is describing here in Ephesians 1.

God has a plan, and He has a means of achieving that plan. God has given grace to achieve His goals. God has designed an administration that is suitable to the fullness of the times, which is the summing up of all things in Christ (Eph 1:10). This administration points to God's gracious oversight of the process of transforming dead sinners into living saints, who will be for the praise of God's glorious grace. This is essentially the topic of Ephesians chapter 2.

Right before discussing God's transformative, redemptive grace in chapter 2, Paul makes this astonishing statement at the end of chapter 1: "And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all" (Eph 1:22-23).

Sometimes I hear professing Christians say disparaging things about the church. We should be very careful with such statements.

By divine design, the church is Christ's body on earth. By divine design, the church is the fullness of Him who fills all in all.

Let that sink in.

If what we perceive as the church does not fit this description, either we are looking at the wrong thing or we are failing to walk in the grace that God has given because we've decided that we have a better design for God's church.

Paul's expectation of God's working through His glorious church was extremely high, saying, "Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen" (Eph 3:20-21).

Since God has a plan and a design, since He has made His will known, and since He has already put all things in subjection under Christ because it is God's will that the church be the fullness of Him who fills all in all, Paul has no problem asserting that God's power is at work within us to bring glory to the church and Christ Jesus for all generations, forever and ever.

This is awesome stuff.

It also requires responsibility on our end, as God's adopted children. This is why in the very next sentence Paul writes, "Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called" (Eph 4:1). Paul implores the saints to understand the will of the Lord and to walk in a worthy way, according to God's grace and design.

It is in this line of thought that Paul describes most fully the administration that God has designed and given, by His grace, for the growth of the body into the fullness of Christ.

Really take a moment to wrap your mind around this.

God has a design and a will. He has made it known. He desires for the church to be the fullness of Him who fills all in all. He entrusted Paul with a stewardship of God's grace to proclaim this design (Eph 3:1-10) of God's administration, which is given to bring about the full maturity of the body.

Paul tells us that each individual member has received grace (Eph 4:7), and to the whole body the risen Jesus has given officials to equip the body "until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ" (Eph 4:13, emphasis added).

These officers are the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.

Fullness doesn't happen by accident. It happens by the grace of God, according to the administration that God designed for the purpose of bringing about full maturity.

It happens by the body of Christ understanding the will of the Lord and submitting themselves to Christ's design, to the praise of His glorious grace.

Without the apostles and prophets - the foundation (Eph 2:18-3:10) - we would have no idea what God's divine will was. Thankfully, God has revealed the mystery of His will through His apostles and prophets, and we have this revelation now recorded in the Scriptures.

Christians must submit ourselves to the biblical revelation, which is where the apostles and prophets have been preserved. The book of Ephesians is a part of this apostolic foundation.

If we survey the body of Christ, we see many pastors and teachers who exist for the equipping of the saints in every local church.

However, one element is conspicuously absent from God's revealed design: the evangelists.

Our modern idea of evangelists has pushed them out into para-church ministry and re-defined them as the primary ministers to the lost. But the apostolic foundation says that Christ gave these officers for the equipping of the church not for the reaching of the lost.

The church exists to reach the lost and make disciples, not just the evangelists.

By pushing out evangelists to the fringe (at best) of the church, it is no wonder many look at "the church" today and think it falls short of Paul's lofty comments.

We have strayed from the design, and as a result we are walking foolishly. We are walking according to our own designs, and not according to the fullness of God's revealed administration for bringing about full maturity in every member of the body of Christ.

By the grace of God, we can understand what the will of the Lord is and can once again walk wisely in His gracious plan, according to His power which is at work within us.

If you do not have the blessing of an evangelist in your local church leadership, Fourth Year Ministries can help. We would love to serve you and help the body of Christ re-discover God's glorious design for bringing about full maturity in the saints.


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