God’s Economy and Paul’s Ministry: Summarized and Demonstrated (3)

God's economy

This is part three of a three part series. I will look at the third crucial phrase Paul uses to summarize his ministry with in Ephesians and see how he demonstrates this in 1 Corinthians.

Paul summarizes his ministry in Ephesians 3:8-11 with three crucial phrases—the unsearchable riches of Christ, the economy of the mystery, and the multifarious wisdom of God made known through the church. In short, Paul’s ministry concerns the all-inclusive Christ, the economy of God, and the church. Viewed from God’s perspective these three are the gospel, His plan, and His goal. This summary of Paul’s ministry is then equated with God’s eternal purpose. That is quite a connection!

The fact is that much of modern Christianity has substituted into this magnificent troika other horses, which stamp and snort quite impressively but pull in a different direction. These three ‘horses’ are doctrine, redemption, and heaven. Doctrine and redemption are by no means bad things, don’t misunderstand me, but they are not the full extent of God’s purpose. If we remain content with doctrine without experience or redemption without dispensing then we fall short of God’s purpose. The gospel is more than the doctrines of grace, God’s plan is more than a judicial solution to man’s sin, and God’s goal is more than going to heaven.

3. The multifarious wisdom of God made known through the church

In order that now to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenlies the multifarious wisdom of God might be made known through the church. (Eph 3:10)

Paul’s summary of his ministry breaks into teleological territory when he reaches verse ten. “In order that” is a small phrase with universal significance. It indicates the goal of God’s creation and economy. Basically, the goal of everything. “Now” means that the future accomplishment of God’s economy is already breaking into our present. This goal that is breaking into our present is that something of God—His multifarious wisdom—would be made known through the church. And remember 1 Corinthians tells us that God’s wisdom is Christ (1:24, 30). So this verse is telling us that God’s goal is that Christ, in many aspects, would be expressed through the church. We become the venue for God’s expression. Here, His wisdom is not being made know TO us, but THROUGH us. God’s goal is not that we would go somewhere, but that we would become something. God’s goal isn’t heaven; it is the expression of Christ through the church.

Seven Aspects of the Church

“God made known through the church” works well as a summary of the entire book of Ephesians. The church receives its most thorough treatment by Paul in this letter, as he views it from multiple angles. What comes into view is 7 major facets of the church as the goal of God’s economy.

In Ephesians, the church is:

  1. The Body of Christ—1:23
  2. The new man—2:15
  3. The kingdom of God—2:19
  4. The household of God—2:19
  5. The dwelling place of God—2:21-22
  6. The bride of Christ—5:24-25
  7. The corporate warrior—6:11-12

Each one of these aspects contributes something unique to God’s expression through the church, whether its the expression of His life, person, rule, joy, rest, love, or might. In short, in this universe God is working to produce the church for His glory. Ephesians 3 and 4 show how this happens today. In chapter 3, it’s through Christ making His home in our hearts individually. In chapter 4, it’s through the functioning of all the members of the Body corporately. This is how the church is built up today.

How This Matters For Eternity

After 2,000 years of working within His people, God will not discard that intrinsic building work for heavenly mansions. God does not suffer non sequiturs. The Bible ends with the glory of God shining through the New Jerusalem, which is not a physical city of dream homes with golden garages; it’s a symbolic description of us (Rev. 21:9-10). Sure, there will be some physical setting in eternity. We will inhabit the new earth. We will have resurrected spiritual bodies. But the problem with the obsession over heaven as a place where we will get “our best life now” is that it distracts from the Person. Specifically, it distracts from the present experience of Christ needed to produce that “city” and it distracts from the enjoyment of union with God Himself that will be the final issue of God’s operation in the universe. In eternity, our enjoyment of God will not consist of sipping fine wines and thinking of God’s creative ability in designing our taste buds and flavor. And it won’t consist of watching beautiful sunsets (beautiful without pollution) and worshipping God for beautiful color palettes. We will enjoy the Triune God Himself in our union with Him, not merely or mainly physical benefits from Him. And the creation will praise God for the expression of grace shining through us.

There is a huge difference between enjoying things from God and enjoying God Himself. The former drives a wedge between us and God and keeps God objective and separate. The latter is the result of a real and actual union with Christ, where God and man become one; not a union in concept or association, but a union in life, nature, and expression.

The Church as God’s Goal Demonstrated in 1 Corinthians

1 Corinthians 12 and 14 are crucial chapters where Paul demonstrates that the church is God’s goal and the church is God’s expression. In 12:4-7 Paul shows that the entire Triune God is moving in the believers for the building up of the church. Then in 12:12 he shows that the Body of Christ is Christ. Certainly this entails subjective experience and organic expression. Both Augustine and C.S. Lewis use the most striking language to convey this.

Let us thus rejoice and give thanks, for we have been made not Christians, but we have been made Christ.[1] –Augustine

He is beginning to turn you into the same kind of thing as Himself. He is beginning, so to speak, to ‘inject’ His kind of life and thought, His Zoe, into you….turning you permanently into a different sort of thing; into a new little Christ, a being which, in its own small way, has the same kind of life as God….There is so much of Him that millions and millions of ‘little Christs,’ all different, will still be too few to express Him fully.[2] –C.S. Lewis

This is what Augustine, in other places, called the ‘whole Christ‘ and Witness Lee called the ‘corporate Christ’—Christ the Head and the Body as one corporate person. The Body of Christ is not a metaphor, but a reality. We are the Body of Christ (12:27). This means that through us, and through our real union with Christ, Christ is being expressed and living again. This is all based on Paul’s profound statement in 6:17, that “he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit.” This oneness is so potent that it extends to and affects our mind and body too. Paul says we “have the mind of Christ” (2:16) and our “bodies are members of Christ” (6:15). This is a comprehensive and organic union between the Triune God and the tripartite man. And the mind and body are the major venues of expression. This is key to understanding our situation in eternity future. If this is really our case today, and if there is any continuity between today and eternity, why would the very manifest outcome of God’s working throughout time be NOT this but a heavenly mansion? Again, it just doesn’t make sense.

Finally, in chapter 14 Paul shows that when we are functioning properly as the Body of Christ, especially in prophesying, God will be expressed among us.

But if all prophesy and some unbeliever or unlearned person enters, he is convicted by all, he is examined by all; the secrets of his heart become manifest; and so falling on his face, he will worship God, declaring that indeed God is among you. (1 Cor. 12:24-25)

God is working in His economy to dispense the unsearchable riches of Christ into the church for His corporate expression in eternity. When that day comes, after a lifetime of experiencing and enjoying Christ in His great communicability, we will corporately express God and “bear the image of the heavenly” (15:49). We just won’t be doing that in heaven.


 

1. Augustine, Tractates on the Gospel of John 21.8
2. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, pp. 162-164, 189

One thought on “God’s Economy and Paul’s Ministry: Summarized and Demonstrated (3)

  1. Pingback: Understanding Vision (2)—Synthesizing | conversant faith

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