Monday, April 30, 2018

Fullness By Design

My wife and I are expecting our 8th child this year. I want my children to grow to full maturity. That's not to say that I want to skip the fun things that accompany young kids. I don't want to skip any of it. As each day passes I realize how quickly these moments are gone.

The march toward adulthood is inevitable. Every day, we all get older. 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 want my children to grow to full maturity what I mean is: I desire my children to realize their potential. I want them to grow into responsible adults.

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

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 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. To understand what Paul means we must understand what he has been writing 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. Fullness comes by God's sovereign design.

The first chapter of Ephesians is filled with some of the deepest theology you will find anywhere. It touches on the work of the triune God in 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, it tells us that God made known to us His plan.

God revealed the mystery of His will which He has purposed in Christ (Eph 1:9-10). We ought to pay careful attention to what God has revealed.

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

God made known the mystery of His will so that we would understand. When Paul states in Ephesians 5:11 that we are not to be foolish but are to understand what the will of the Lord is, it is safe to say he expects his readers to remember what he described in Ephesians 1.

God has a plan. He has a means of achieving that plan. God has given grace to accomplish His goals.

God has designed an administration 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.

Before discussing God's transformative, redemptive grace in chapter 2, Paul makes this astonishing statement:

"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. Be very careful with such statements.

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

Let that sink in. This is why when Jesus confronted Saul on the road to Damascus He asked him,

"Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" (Acts 9:4, bold added).

Saul was persecuting the church. Therefore, Saul was persecuting Jesus Himself.

If what we perceive as "the church" doesn't fit this description either we are looking at the wrong thing or we are failing to walk in the grace God has given because we've decided that we have a better design for God's church. Neither situation calls for bashing Christ's church. Repentance would be a better approach.

Paul's expectation of the church was extremely high.

"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).

God has a plan and a design. He has made His will known. He is putting 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. Therefore, 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 requires responsibility on our end. We are 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. To walk 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 God has provided for the growth of the body into the fullness of Christ.

Really take a moment to wrap your mind around this.

God 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. The administration is given to bring about the full maturity of the body.

Paul tells us that each individual member of the church has received grace (Eph 4:7). 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 this very purpose.

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. We have this revelation recorded in the Scriptures.

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

If we lift our eyes from God's word and look around we see a different administration. Take a survey the body of Christ for yourself. We see many pastors and teachers who exist for the equipping of the saints in every local church.

One element is conspicuously absent from God's revealed design: the evangelists. They have been forgotten.

Our modern idea of evangelists is not biblical. We have pushed them out into para-church ministry. We've re-defined them primarily as ministers to the lost. But the apostolic foundation says that Christ gave these officers for the equipping of the church. It doesn't restrict them to reaching the lost and leaving the rest of the body off the hook for the Great Commission.

The church exists to reach the lost and make disciples. It's 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 God's design. We've settled for an administration that is more Roman than Christian. 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. We can walk wisely in His gracious plan according to His power which is at work within us.

Are we willing to repent of walking in our own designs and walk by faith? If we will, God will do abundantly beyond all we can ask or think in our generation for the praise of His glorious grace.

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